Sunday, 1 March 2009

Us Now

Kudos to up and coming filmmaker Ivo Gormley for creating Us Now, a thought provoking documentary about the social and commercial transformations catalysed by internet technologies.

Screened to sold-out crowd Wednesday evening at the Barbican by the LIDF, the film highlights popular online services like Couchsurfing and Mumsnet which Gormley suggests, indicate the potential for greater grass roots participation in public institutions and government
. These businesses in their different ways both demonstrate the efficacy of peer-to-peer networking and collaboration around common goals and interests ( and parenting respectively).

A who's who of the internet intelligensia - including Clay Shirky and Don Tapscott - support Ivo's thesis with lots of talk of potential. Labour politician Ed Milliband interviewed for the film seems less sure. Good thing then that the successfully fan-managed community-owned Ebbsfleet Football Club is heralded as a model for future government. It is highly evocative case study- if only we could get people to be as passionate about government as many are about football.

In contrast, the post-film panel suggested a recent participatory US government trial run by highlighted potential pitfalls of participatory democracy; the legalisation of marijuana dominated online discussions about desired legislative changes and consequently was slated for it.

My view is we need to think about how on and offline activites can work in harmony whilst being clever and committed to finding new ways to get people interested in politics. An example of participatory budgeting in Morecombe Bay presented in the film (drawn from a methodology from Brazil) seems promising, however this excercise took place offline in the form of a public meeting. Links with citizenship education should also be explored.

So how do we get governments to seriously consider these new approaches? Does it take, as I suggested on the panel, a crisis? The Kent town of Wye mobilised over a threat to their countryside via the internet-enabled Save Wye campaign led by two former journalists. Kent Council now has a social innovation lab.

Although the film raises more questions than it answers, it is a great conversation starter especially for the digital generation about the future of politics as well as a reminder to people like me about why I got involved in the first place.

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