01.29.09

The United State of Google: Geeks Rule

In an excerpt from What Would Google Do?, media blogger and editor Jeff Jarvis muses over government run by a Google guy.

What if a Google guy were president?...If the geeks take over—and they will—we could enter an era of scientific rationality in government. Other nonpoliticians have improved government. Michael Bloomberg ran New York City as a business. Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled California on the power of personality. A Google guy might just run government as a service to problems.

Whether or not they take charge, Google and the Internet will have a profound impact on how government is run, on its relationship with us, and on our expectations of it. Now that we have the technological means to open up government and make every action transparent, we must insist on a new ethic of openness. So abolish the Freedom of Information Act and turn it inside out. Why should we have to ask for information from our government? The government should have to ask to keep it from us. Every action of government must be open, searchable, and linkable by default. The information government knows must be online with permanent addresses so we can link to it, discuss it, and download and analyze it. Government needs a new and transparent attitude: Officials and agencies should blog and engage in open conversations with constituents. They should webcast every meeting, since technology now makes that easy…

Why should we have to ask for information from our government? The government should have to ask to keep it from us.

I want government to implement tools like MyStarbucksIdea and DellIdeaStorm to enable citizens to make suggestions and share ideas, discussing them together as communities: GovernmentStorm. The UK has E-Petitions, a program launched by the prime minister’s office in 2006 with help from citizen activists in mySociety, which creates tools for government openness. Among the petitions: “Scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy” got 1.8 million signatures. “Cut value-added tax on 100% fruit juices and smoothies to the minimum 5% allowed by EU law to encourage shoppers to take the healthier option and achieve their ‘five a day’” attracted 10,400. “Make breastfeeding in public legally acceptable for all babies and children” got almost 6,000. In its first year, 29,000 petitions were submitted (14,000 of them rejected because they were duplicates, jokes or unlawful) drawing 5.8 million signatures. Here is a new way to involve citizenry.

We also need to use these tools to turn conversation about government to the positive and constructive. We spend too much time complaining about government and trying to catch bastards red-handed. There are lots of red-handed bastards to catch. But some people in government do care and work hard. Until we expect the best of them, we will see only the worst. Let’s think like engineers and identify problems and work toward collaborative solutions. Pollyannish? Yes, but if we never move past complaining we’ll never build anything.

Excerpted from What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis © 2009. With permission from Collins Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Related: Jeff Jarvis Asks: Is Google an Evil Empire?

Jeff Jarvis is the proprietor of one of the Web’s most popular and respected blogs about the Internet and media, Buzzmachine.com. He also writes the new-media column for the Guardian in London. He was named one of 100 worldwide media leaders by the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2007 and 2008, and he was the creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly. He is on the faculty of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.