Long before I knew I was coming to DC, I saw Alec Ross, Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary Clinton, give a talk at the London School of Economics on foreign policy in the era of social media. He argued to an enthusiastic London audience that high speed Internet is the infrastructure of the 21st century (and would be as transformative as rail had been in the 19th century). At the time I wondered whether one could really say – this early on in the 21st century – what the narrative for a century will be. But I was very cheery to receive an invitation to the first in the 2012 series of State of the Administration talks—where the Administration hosts different speakers before an audience of Washington’s foreign Ambassadors—with Alec as the main speaker.
Alec argued today that whilst so many talk about the shift of power from the West to the East, the real seismic change that is happening is one of hierarchy—power moving from the state to the individual. His argument was that connectedness disrupts traditional geopolitical power—and that this is something which governments need to work out how to adapt to (unlike Darwin, his view is that it is the most adaptable to change that survive). I could see Ambassadors around the room resolving to get onto Twitter.
This is something I’ve seen for myself. Leaving London for DC, I decided that the moment had come to get my mother to embrace the Internet. This is no easy feat. But her interest sparked when she heard about the British Government’s e-petitions policy. In brief, an e-petition can be created about anything that the Government is responsible for and if it gets 100,000 signatures or more then it is eligible for a debate in our House of Commons. For my mother—who cares about politics but has never participated in it, this was revelatory.
The British e-petition program proved revolutionary for others as well. Not long after the UK launched their program the Americans followed suit. The White House launched ‘We The People,’ a website aimed at allowing citizens to engage directly with the White House online by creating and signing petitions, to bring their issues to the attention of the federal government.
As for me, I’m ashamed to still be living without Twitter since arriving in Washington, since I still don’t have a US phone contract.