Last year I submitted this (too late) to be considered for a TED U (short talk).
I will post it now in full, partially because I’m so excited about WikiLeaks’ recent moves and also so dismayed that people don’t see the overwhelming good that is coming from the transparency that this is bringing.
The sooner we have our leaders accountable to the people the better we all will be. Today they are accountable to special interests and lobbies, and that can never be a good thing.
Anyway… here it is, pardon the fact that it makes no mention of WikiLeaks in the body…
Recognizing, Organizing and Arming the Information Militia
George Orwell had a nightmare that by 1984 a big brother would be watching every move we make, turning us into grey-clad automatons scared to even have a non-conforming thought.
Today in 2010, we may be on the cusp of witnessing the reverse — a dream where instead of one big brother watching us, millions of little brothers and sisters armed with camera phones, blogs, twitter, facebook and youtube accounts are watching every move that big brother or its representatives want to make, instantly making the whole citizenry aware of any misstep.
It is a dream where anyone, regardless of status, wealth or power — anyone, who has something worthwhile to add to a debate, a news story, or a discussion — can instantly do so and have their “vote” counted and weighed into forming a more complete picture for everyone.
It is the dream where real people and their simple perspectives and human truths, can stand toe-to-toe against the memes and the agendas that our most powerful institutions — governments, corporations, churches, etc.– try to realize through mass media propaganda, repetition and sensationalism.
But on what is this dream based, and what will it take to make it into a reality?
The dream is catalyzed by our most basic right under the US Constitution: our 1st amendment right to the freedom of speech, press and assembly; broadly, our right to freely access and distribute information.
And, it is aided by technology on a ubiquitous internet that allows for almost costless information production (or “speech”), broadcast (or “press”) and large-scale human-to-human connection (or “assembly”)… Technologies that allow a sort of 1st amendment 2.0.
However, while this dream is founded in philosophy and aided by technology, the most important distinguishing factor that could turn it into reality, is that it is truly powered by the people…
Ordinary people who will come to be known as the heros of the Internet age!
But who are these heros? Where are they today? And what can we do to help them?
That is the purpose of this talk…
First, though, let’s start by giving this emerging class of heros a name: I call them the Information Militia.
And, I chose that name carefully, because just like a conventional militia — a group of armed citizens, authorized by the 2nd amendment of the US constitution to stand ready to physically defend the republic against anyone who would try to meddle with our rights — especially the only right that precedes it, our 1st amendment right to free speech — the Information Militia are an emergent entity, ready and armed with tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and legions of friends and followers that they are connected to.
They form a new heroic class who should first be recognized as essential to the realization of a dream of true democracy. Then organized, motivated and empowered to perform this most important of modern civic duties…
After all, we have long known that the pen is mightier than the sword, but now, in the internet age, it is becoming apparant that the tweet may be mightier than even the pen.
So then, it should be no surprise that an organized Information Militia can be much more important to a democratic movement than any physical militia ever was… and so its emergence should be officially recognized and eulogized as such.
Think of it as a sort of “information age” upgrade to the 2nd amendment which recognizes the need for a new kind of militia, one who by instantly and bravely distributing essential truths of the people, by the people and for the people, defends the republic by ensuring that its citizens are aware and active, so that democracy can work as it was originally designed.
OK… assuming that we all agree that the idea of an Information Militia is important, let’s now try to recognize members of this emergent heroic class so we can thank them, help them and aspire to be like them…
Who here is a wired journalist? Raise your hand… Thank you! You’re a member of the Information Militia! Who here has a blog? Raise yours… Who has ever tweeted? Or has a facebook account? You too raise your hand and be counted… you’re all potentially a part of a new class of heros known henceforth as the Information Militia.
In fact, all of us, citizens, activists, bloggers, journalists, really anyone with an internet connection, can be a modern day hero… All we need to do is to realize it, take our civic duty seriously, and have some guts to say what we feel is right, broadcast what we know to be true, and retweet, post, forward, and e-mail, valuable information that we come across to our assembly of friends and followers.
Of course, all this banter brings about the potential problems of cacaphony, of too many voices, and of information overload. But that is where all of you in this room — technologists, inventors, smart and powerful movers and shakers — can find an important role to play in this coming revolution.
If you believe in true democracy (or even if you just believe in stirring up the status quo a bit… ;), get out there with this new framework of an emerging Information Militia in mind… Find and support people, start-ups and platforms which are helping to organize and empower this movement. Make tools and algorithms that help the most useful voices rise the quickest, and that ensure that the best ideas and truths of the people, are efficiently gathered by the people, and quickly distributed to the people.
And make sure you think of it as civic duty… not as an investment… Platforms like Twitter, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks, WeAreAnonymous and countless others need to be recognized, supported and expanded, whether or not they make any money… because something much more important is at stake!
As an example of what, just look at what Twitter has allowed to happen for the Iranian people… A few short months ago that whole nation — rulers and its people — were seen by many as one unified threat. But now, thanks to the brave and heroic action of the Information Militia in Iran who are risking their lives each day to tweet about the people’s truths, the whole world is witnessing a historical struggle between a freedom-loving people and their brutal and oppressive leaders… and it’s obvious now, because the truth is out there for all to see, which side must eventually prevail.
Now imagine what the next generation of such tools could do for democracy here and in the rest of the world! Then get out there and put your time, energy and money into this most worthwhile of endeavors: Let’s figure out how to best organize and empower the emerging Information Militia… It’s what the world needs, now!
Addendum: Thanks to Wikileaks, it’s what the world is getting now too! Go Juilan!