Looking for our new site?

Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age

A Blog from New America's Media Policy Initiative

Digital District: DC trades in its nerd capital for digital capital

Published:  June 14, 2010

There are some occasions in DC that find others importing or manufacturing celebrities to make wonky Washington seem a bit trendier, but most of the time, the District is pretty comfortable with being relatively un-hip. For policy wonks and tech-savvy media mavens alike, though, this week might prove that there are some areas in which DC is, in fact, a cutting edge kind of city.

The event that has us blocking off our calendars is Digital Capital (DC) Week, a festival that kicked off on Friday to bring together members from the social media, public policy, traditional media and government sectors. Running from June 11 to June 20, this massive event celebrates the creativity, technology, entrepreneurship, marketing, content creation, and innovation found in our nation's capital. We at the Media Policy Initiative will be stopping by as many media-related events as we can this week, and we'll be sure to post our reactions here, so stay tuned.

Last week we reflected on some thoughts shared by Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, during his recent appearance at the Brookings Institute, during which he asked for a stronger relationship between the private and public sectors to encourage government adoption of innovative technologies. According to Chopra, the private sector is an essential catalyst for consumer adoption and engagement. Consumer-facing tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, can play a strategic role in influencing communities to participate in government. Chopra has a point, but his assertion assumes first that technology begets innovation. While this is largely the case, technology is not a cure-all: It can enable change, but adoption of new communication technologies alone cannot bring about a transformation in the way democracy is practiced. Too often, we see politicians using tools such as Twitter as a one-way communication vehicle, which may serve a purpose in broadcasting information, but does little to encourage dialogue and interaction between government and its constituents. To move communities and change policy, communication technologies must be leveraged well, not just rashly adopted as passing fads.

It seems timely, then, to take note of Twitter's recent job posting for a government-facing liaison located in the D.C. area. According to the post, this remote employee will be responsible for providing and advocating support of government and political use of Twitter. Not surprisingly, this has generated a bit of resistance and a few words of caution from those who view the match between Twitter and politics as that of water and oil.

During DC Week and beyond, it is worth exploring how new media stand to change our culture and our understanding of democratic engagement. As the government courts the private sector (and vice versa) to push innovation, the line between serving private sector needs versus the public good will surely become blurred. When can corporate involvement stimulate government towards more innovative communication practices, and when should change evolve from better engagement between constituents and government? We'll be looking for forward-thinking, local examples of better information-sharing through technology in the coming days during DC Week. Let us know what we should watch for and what we might have missed.

Join the Conversation

Please log in below through Disqus, Twitter or Facebook to participate in the conversation. Your email address, which is required for a Disqus account, will not be publicly displayed. If you sign in with Twitter or Facebook, you have the option of publishing your comments in those streams as well.

Related Programs