The Online Politics Conference is over and the basic coverage has been excellent. Since I'm late writing these (see yesterday's post for why) I'm wandering through the two days reflecting on what I saw and heard - so join me. Here are some of the great personalities who were part of the Politics Online Conference earlier this week. The woman you see here, Debra Bowen, is the Secretary of State of California. She's also a savvy Facebook and Twitter user and completely accessible. She speaks plain English about policy, politics and just about everything else, including the changes she hopes to make in California in online electoral reform. Later, she showed up at a panel on the youth vote in jeans, her hair pulled back, no ceremony, no nothing. Keep an eye on her - she's got a lovely future I think.
This is Jeremy Bird, Harvard Divinity Grad and Deputy Director of Organizing for America - the successor to the Obama online campaign. Shrewd, funny and knowledgeable, he echoed something we heard from all the Obama people at the conference: integrate online into every aspect and every major meeting of the campaign. They need to be a seamless part of the team, not stuck in the basement. Keep everyone in the loop and they take ownership. "I"f you don't know what it's like on the ground, you will fail."
These two guys, Larry Irving and Mike McCurry, were part of a broadband panel. Irving ran NTIA in the Clinton Administration; McCurry, of course, was Bill Clinton's White House Press Secretary and left with his integrity intact. "Broadband and access to broadband is an indispensable tool for every American" says McCurry. The panel basically made a case for broadband as a tool for health care, education, economic advancement and more. It's not just cool to get Hulu, it's critical to our growth, the panelists maintain. It can also save considerable money, particularly in health care, by making the best experts available, remotely, to any doctor anywhere.
Things weren't all nuts and bolts though. One panel, probably, along with a riveting exploration of the youth vote, was my favorite. It's title: The Visual Frontier: How the Arts, Pop Culture and Business Innovates the Way We Consume and Use Information. So whose eyes are those to the left? They belong to Josh Klein, a "hacker" and wise man of technology. He and the others in this panel have a combination of wisdom, originality and articulateness that made this panel a real pleasure.
Probably the other really intellectually exciting panel was How Are We Changing Because of What We Do Online? Its star: Judith Donath of the wonderful MIT Media Lab. Here's a bit of what she said:
The information world is making many things no longer ephemeral the way they once were. We used to be a country of constant reinvention (You could move to the west, change your name, and start over.) We'd move around, and if finished college more than five years ago, we lost our old friends and reinvented ourselves. Now that's coming to an end. Things written on Usenet years ago comes back to haunt us.
Now our online identity is our most long term and long lasting in the world we are building around us. All that we've clicked on is retained somewhere along with shopping records and more. What do we do with the vast amount of the past trailing us around, and how does it affect how we see politicians and each other?
So. Plenty to think about from this gifted and influential group - politicians and "big thinkers" alike.
Today on AlterNet - a wonderful aggregator of things political, there appeared the rather remarkable tale behind production of the video game Left Behind. Based on the phenomenally best-selling series of books set during the arrival of the End Times and the Rapture, it sounds like it's pretty violent for a religious game.
I guess though that the entire story of the End Times is pretty grim. I remember thinking that back when I first heard of these books. It was around 7 years ago, when the first one came out. I wandered back to the galley on a cross country flight and found the flight attendant transfixed, deeply involved in the story. We spoke of it for some time; it meant a great deal to her.
I have always found apocalyptic stories riveting. Maybe it's growing up in the "duck and cover" era but the idea of the world ending in fire seemed so plausible in those times* I was deeply affected by it, I think. If you had to go under your desk in 2nd or 3rd grade and put your crossed hands over your neck, you'd be scared too.
In addition to our air raid drills, there were books and movies like Alas, Babylon, On the Beach, and dozens of other nuclear disaster tales. They were full of small, horrible moments. I was pretty young but I remember, from Alas Babylon, mobs storming drugstores and looting them for medicine. Even now it is probably the image of nuclear war that sits most viscerally in my mind. My father had high blood pressure - and was lost without his hearing aid - and I remember fearing that a war would take away his medication and the hearing aid batteries that connected him to us.
The bombs always came from countries back then. Now of course all it takes is a suitcase and some under-funded port security to empower someone bent on destruction. It probably is no accident that the Left Behind books are so popular -- there's so much uncertainty and so much that's frightening. Which brings us back to the game. Somehow it seems less acceptable to insert violence into a religious game, but as I become accustomed to the weekly reading of Torah portions I realize the bloody violence in the Bible itself. Even God was not immune - his anger was swift and deadly. The understanding of that somehow seems, at least partially, to justify the violence of apocalyptic literature.
So. No conclusions -- just a riff for a Wednesday night. And the thought that if violence emerges so often in sacred works it's an acknowledgment of those things in our natures that challenge us most... to keep our own rage, envy and hatred from popping out and contributing to chaos -- in real life, on the pages of a book, or on an XBOX 360.