This weekend, two crowds flocked to the nation’s capital, both with government on their minds. One group was marked by ludicrous notions of persecution scrawled upon misspelled signs, inchoate anger and a raft of complaints culled from Fox News and AM hate radio. The second group was composed of people whose careers depend upon being able to spell, discern, engineer and generally make sense of a world filled with people who noisily belong to the other group. The second group were the new technocrats and they came to speak and hear about the newest applications of technology to the dirty, ugly, frustrating job of Government. Away from the screaming, Government 2.0 Summit had convened.
Boiled down, Government 2.0’s central argument is over the notion of government conceived as a platform, a visualization that takes the organizing principles of operating systems supporting applications and in brief, applies them to civics. The view propounded by O’Reilly himself, is being challenged by some, and the arguments are fascinating.
Government is a heartbreaking mess that invites comparisons to privately developed systems such as computing platforms mainly due to the commonly large numbers of people and institutions that both serve. And that is where serious parallels should end; civic, social and technical engineering techniques each can be oriented toward naked campaigns of domination and centralization to the direct detriment of the public interest. This is generally how business interests apply the technocratic mindset. While it may be that government might learn technocratic chops from that dominant camp, it will never (as a separate institution charged with public interest) acquire the same goals nor therefore commit a fraction of the crime. This is exactly why the operational and philosophical synthesis of government and business must be resisted as aggressively as possible; I look forward to more research into the overlap of the two, starting with watching what happened at the conference where the nerds of each camp congregated among the crazies.