Walking through wooded hills of the University of California, Santa Cruz, I happened upon a student housing area where nearly every residence had a sign near the door that read: “Mayor.”
I was reminded of this democratic display when I attended a talk last month at the University of Minnesota given by Anthony D. Williams, co-author of book Wikinomics. Williams predicted that the future of government will be more collaborative and interactive. In essence, Williams imagines a future where everyone’s a mayor.
The key to this collaborative future, according to Williams, is the coming of age of the Net Generation or “N-Gen.” Williams believes this “first generation of digital natives” is engaged in politics, but they just tend to be bored by traditional one-way, “broadcast” coverage. Williams cites cognitive research suggesting that a lifetime of content creation may have changed the way N-Gen brains are wired. They prefer more reciprocal, participatory formats, like chat rooms and social networking sites, to television or radio.
Just as the past decade witnessed the meteoric rise of social networking sites like MySpace, Williams said to watch out for “MyGovernment,” a fully-customizable, collaborative decision-making network. While modern government has been characterized by multiple levels of bureaucracy, mountains of paper and few channels to power, Williams predicts that Gov 2.0 will be characterized simple, cross-departmental entry points and more consumer-minded approachability. Williams also foresees leadership coming from inside and outside the government.
One sign of this coming trend, Williams said, is Scorecard.org, which takes the massive public information on pollution, compiles it by location, and presents it in a format that is online, accessible, and easily searchable by zip code. This kind of project, allowing for greater public access and civic participation, could be the upgrade the U.S. government needs.