Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Technology, Democracy, MOOC

At the Tech4Dem conference today organized by the National Democratic Institute, exploring trajectories for democracy and how new technologies will influence it, one of the panels featured former VP Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Both were in the cabinet during the Clinton Administration, and as they discussed US leadership, the role of technology, and its influence on democracy around the world, I had a serious flashback to the positive energy of the 1990s. There was so much hope back then -- a belief in the possibility for human betterment, and an understanding of the need for the US to lead and engage with the world.

Albright had a quote back then, calling the US "the indispensable nation" in international affairs, meaning that American leadership was critical to getting things done. This was echoed in Gore's remarks today: that no other nation is able to substitute for American leadership in matters of vital global concern, including climate change. (Whenever climate and environmental issues came up during his talk, he became much more animated -- thunderous even. Major props.)

However, as Albright noted today, "indispensable does not mean alone." The United States has a key role in marshaling the rest of the world to act in concert to address these issues, whether it's human rights or sustainable development or gender equality.

I grew up in that era, and these are the folks in government who inspired us as we became politically aware. So here's to hoping we reclaim that can-do spirit of the 1990s: technology powering possibility, guided by principle and ethical commitment; and caring for the world, including human beings and the many species that share the planet with us.

P.S. I laughed out loud during a panel on Internet technologies, when the moderator said, "The United States invented most of these technologies!" and then looked significantly at Al Gore.

P.P.S. The formal conference name is "Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World"

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