Pittsblog Wind Down Wrap Up Post #2: One Web Day

Monday, Sept. 22 has come and gone, and that means that I just missed an opportunity to wish everyone a Happy One Web Day! A short time back, I asked whether Pittsburghers were planning any One Web Day celebrations, and I heard zip (or was that diddly, or even squat?). Guess we're not quite as techno-hip as we think, or the techno-hip stopped reading Pittsblog even before I decided to wrap things up.

Anyway, for the remaining Pittsblog faithful and the possibly techno-hip of the Burgh, Sept. 22 was indeed One Web Day, invented by my friend and law professor colleague Susan Crawford. To interpret it and to inspire (and give pause) I give you the remarks of my law professor colleague Larry Lessig:

There is an endless list of technologies with us today that forty years ago only science fiction writers, and professors at MIT, could have imagined imagined. But on that list, there’s only one that we could imagine celebrating with a day. There won’t be a one iPod day, Steve’s dreams notwithstanding. Nor a one PC day, whether or not Seinfeld offers to come. Only this technology — the Web; only this community — the Web; only this dream — the Web; makes sense to celebrate in just this way.

And of course, there is much to be proud of. This technology, this community, this dream, is far more than anyone who created it ever imagined. As Holmes said of the constitution — that it “called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters” — so too could we say of the Net.

Indeed, that is precisely what we cheerleaders have said of the Net, as we have fought to defend it from changes that would corrupt its most precious feature — that it repeatedly surprises even the most gifted of its begetters. Defend it, that is, by keeping it open to change, free from the inevitable design of those who have made it to make it so the platform on which they have made it doesn’t encourage others to displace them.

But as I reflect upon where we are today — and by “we” I mean we Americans, just one part of this world — I grow increasingly impatient with celebrations. I grow tired of self-confident pride.

We are in the middle of a war, paralyzed by terror. In this city, the financial system of our nation is collapsing. Across our nation, the financial system of millions of families has already collapsed. And yet at the center of this mess is a government — the product of a democracy — which too few of us respect. A president favorably thought of by less that a third of the Nation. A Congress favorably thought of by less than 10%. The only branch enjoying majority support is the one branch not elected by the people — the Court.

We should pause to think about just what this means. There were more who supported the British Crown at the revolution than support the US Congress today. And I suspect more who had faith in our government attending to the problems that were ours at every point in America’s history, save that one point that quickly slid to a civil war.

We must change this. It is time we turn this extraordinary platform for hope, the Web, to more of the extraordinary public problems that weigh us down today. It is time we use the inspiration and power of this technology, this community, this dream, to fix what is broken in this real world. It is time the virtual gets used to fix the real. Our crisis in governance has perhaps never been as profound. And it feels almost Hollywood-esque, or Harry Potter-esque, that just at the moment when things are as dark as they could possibly be, we get handed a magical tool that could, if used well, save this day.

But the fact is things are this dark, and we have been given that tool. And we must use it to learn again how citizens govern.

There is a government we are responsible for. There are enormous problems that it has either caused, or is not curing. Let us take this technology, this community, this dream, and use it to restore democratic responsibility. And community. And a dream.

I copied that from Lessig's blog, and I copied it partly because I share his mix of dread and hope, because I think that the mix applies to us, right here in River City, and also in the hope that some of you will remember that Lessig will be here in Pittsburgh this coming Thursday. Public lecture -- open to all -- free -- no RSVP required; just show up -- at Pitt's Law School, Forbes & Bouquet in Oakland -- that's across Forbes from the O -- 3 p.m. sharp. I'll look for you there.


2 Responses to "Pittsblog Wind Down Wrap Up Post #2: One Web Day"

Alan Veeck said... 9/23/2008 8:14 AM

While I like Lessig's general tone and approach, I think he is placing his hope in a false idol - technology. Technology alone has never fixed our world's problems; instead it has been people and their values and character that fix problems (and create the technology in the first place).

People can use technology for evil or for good; we need to focus on the individual, not the technology. When we rear our next generation of leaders in an ever-increasing value-less, character-less, and truth-less environment, we shouldn't be surprised that we have a large portion of leaders who use technology only to their own greedy advantage, all others be damned.

Technology is a false idol - and a good root-cause analysis takes you back to what should be our focus - the individual. We used to think long and hard about what created an outstanding individual, but today we largely distracted by the technology.

Mike Madison said... 9/23/2008 8:51 AM


Good comment. I agree with you that technology alone is normatively neutral. I don't agree, though, that we should reject it and look (equally narrowly) into the soul of the individual. Tech is inevitably part of this conversation, as are the groups and communities that it enables. Lessig's pitch from yesterday is necessarily brief, given its context and its format. In longer form (and see Benkler, Wealth of Nations) the argument goes further: The power of 21st century technology lies in how it enables the individual to organize into new collectives. Again, those collectives aren't universally great things, but they offer some awesome potential.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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