Monday, January 26, 2009

If Prediction Was Easy We'd All Be Rich

I love coming across old quotes predicting the social implications of new technologies. They are often gems of priceless insight.

This one, favored by an editor at Government Technology, is among the best:

“[Railroads will] only encourage the common people to move about needlessly."

The Duke of Wellington, 1835

Saturday, January 24, 2009

That Rowdy New Media

“Not knowledge but libel and foolishness…No wisdom…just much posturing and gossip” is how NYT writer Edward Rothstein summarizes the point of view of Henry Peacham, an early critic of the new media.

Only thing - Peacham was making those observations in 1641 when print media was the next new thing.

Rothstein’s article is a review of an exhibition at the Foldger Shakespeare Library in Washington that I’d love to see, “Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper.” The review describes the exhibit as a “chronicle of chronicles, an account of how information about the wider world in 16th- and 17th-century England, including reports of wonders and horrors, wars and troop movements, murders and merchandise, gradually made its way from private journals or letters reporting on events witnessed, to publicly sold broadsheets and pamphlets.”

Like today, but more so, the emergence of a new media was part of a collision of factors that reshaped society. As Rothstein writes in his review, the “… story of how journalism became a public enterprise in Renaissance England is actually the history of how a public itself took shape; how out of a monarchical society in which great poverty and great wealth cohabited, another kind of identity evolved. It was based on slowly increasing literacy and impassioned written argument; it included curiosity about gossip and a taste for exotic tales; and it developed alongside a new commercial world in which written advertising, like the news it accompanied, helped shape taste and expectations."

As new technology disrupts the media world in the 21t century its good to hear from the ink-stained pioneers from the 1600’s.

Friday, January 23, 2009

21st Century Government For Real?

e.Republic is a media and research firm focused exclusively on the public sector - primarily state/local government and education. Central to our mission is the idea that a dramatically new era requires new kinds of government and educational systems. We’ve stated this in many ways over the 20 + years we’ve been at this but they boil down to the belief that you can’t successfully run 21st century schools, cities, counties and states on 20th century “operating systems”.

Clearly public organizations are frustratingly slow to evolve. Much of the current economic crisis has its roots in governments overwhelmed by a world made smaller, faster and complexly interdependent by new technologies.

This week President Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th President. I watched the inauguration ceremony, streamed live over the web, with tremendous pride and hope as a citizen of both America and the world.

Politics aside, there is strong promise in the new administration in Washington. President Obama is a one of a new generation of leaders who get it - for real – it’s in their DNA. They know we won’t succeed in this new century with a 20th century government.

As President Obama said in his inauguration Tuesday: “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” Also speaking about the scope and ambition required to meet the challenges ahead he remarked: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them…the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

No doubt the obstacles and inertia to transforming our public institutions are nearly insurmountable, but a new spirit is loose in the land and here at e.Republic a recommitment to our goal of being at the forefront of informing 21st century government.