What Would an Always-On-The-Record Government Look Like?

Recently, I wrote a post about Government 2.0 predictions for 2010-12, and one of them was that government would “always be on-the-record.”

By that I meant that the combination of (1) the proliferation of tech-savvy citizens with mobile camera/video devices, (2) the prevalence of wi-fi or other Web connections, (3) the massive number of people using social networks like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and (4) the great interest that people have right now in a number of controversial issues like our current wars, health care, and climate change that people could and probably would start documenting everything that government officials do and say, where they go, who they meet with, for how long, what their staffers eat for lunch and with whom, and so on.

And you don’t need to be a professional journalist to do this, or even to do it well. An entire site along the lines of Gawker.com could be started around this, in fact. GovernmentGawker.com, anyone? (Maybe with lots of hyper-local sections?)

Well, I was doing some research to look at planes versus trains to get home for the holidays, in light of the recent blizzard that’s affected transport in the DC-NY-Boston corridor, and I came across a fantastic video that essentially puts the Amtrak Acela First Class service on the record for the trip between New York and Boston (7 min edited clip). It’s great.

Now, imagine if someone did the same thing, but wanted to document a day in the life of Senator Ben Nelson. It’s not hard. You check the general schedules of his committees and such beforehand, go through security at the Capitol, find his office, camp out, maybe ask the person at the front desk some questions, find some press in the hallways and ask some questions, stalk the cafeteria and listen for people saying “Nelson,” go back to his office and see him leaving to walk down the hall to a committee hearing, go to the committee hearing and tape it from a Flip in your coat pocket, upload it to YouTube while you follow him to his next meeting, and so forth.

And you could do variations on this for political appointees you don’t like, lobbyists you’re interested in, principal deputy assistant secretaries that make important decisions but don’t necessarily travel in armored vehicles with bodyguards, etc. Trust me, this isn’t hard.

But why would someone do this? Well, most people wouldn’t. But it’s just like Wikipedia – only about 1% of people who use Wikipedia actively edit it; about 9% do sometimes, and 90% just read it. Twitter is not unlike that either – only about 10% of users contribute 90% of the tweets.

So what if 1% of U.S. citizens started doing this? Roughly there are 300 million people, say half of them are adults, so we have 1% of 150 million as 1.5 million. Now, if everyone just did this at the state, local, or federal level one day a year, and generated one “amateur journalism piece” from that day, that’s about 4,100 videos/blog posts/tweet sets generated PER DAY. That’s a lot of government on-the-record.

Leave a Comment

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Andrew Krzmarzick

I’ll re-post my comment from your blog here to get the conversation going:

Hi Mark – You keep leading us into thinking about government in new ways…and I appreciate it. Though I don’t doubt this always-on-the-record day is coming soon, what concerns me most is security and privacy. Many of us use social media out of choice…we place our lives on the record. Some of our elected officials are using social media to do the same. But what happens when more people know their patterns and it becomes easier to ambush? What happens when we turn the tables on Big Brother? Do we give implicit permission for government to observe us omnisciently?

Are we approaching a panopticon of which we are all prisoners?

No answers, just more questions. Thanks for raising them.