On my way back from this weekend’s meeting of the Online Deliberative Democracy consortium I had a chance to enjoy the ever-increasing vigilance of US airport security. At the end of my last US visit I ended up at the airport with a colleague who relayed the observation that while the elaborate rituals of airport scanning — unpack your computer, take off your belt, empty the change from your pockets — do little to increase security, they do an excellent job of turning thoughtful citizens into obedient sheep.
Through the lens of this observation I found myself irritated with the screening process, whereas I’d previously accepted it on the grounds that a minor hassle is a small price to pay for any possible increase in security. I fell back on my favourite mechanism for coping with life’s minor (and major) irritations: mentally composing the blog post that tackles the politics of US airport security.
I had barely packed away my laptop on before I started second-guessing the wisdom of such a post. My dissertation research on hacktivism included an investigation of hacktivist protests (PDF) against Echelon, the early name for the rumored electronic surveillance of electronic communications. That has left me with a not-atypical case of progressive paranoia about who might be reading my blog posts, e-mail, or web site.
Then I second-guessed again: after all, in the two days I’d just spent with my fellow e-democrats, we’d done a lot of hand-wringing about the current disconnect between the blogosphere and the political sphere. For all the energy and hype around blogging as a form of personal publishing and political discourse, there’s little evidence that policy-makers keep an eye on the blogosphere as a source of grassroots citizen input. Sure, they may read a few blogs from the Technorati Top 100, but that’s more in the spirit of anticipating the next media crisis than as a way of hearing from the proverbial little guy.
While the participants in the ODDC meeting all acknowledged that bloggers are hardly a representative population, many were also (like me) very interested in the possibilities for capturing the energy and spontaneity of blog-based political discussion — and finding ways to make that discussion more constructive. One of the most exciting upshots of the conference is a plan to experiment with blog-based deliberation — something that could provide a model for policy-makers seeking to incorporate the spontaneous political utterances of bloggers into the structured processes of policy-making.
The juxtaposition of my mental blogging on airport security and our excited planning for blog-based deliberation led me to a couple of possible axioms:
- I should be able to be as reasonably hopeful that the government is scanning my blog for political and policy inspiration as I am anxious that it’s taking my blog posts as security threats, OR
- I should be able to be as reasonably hopeful that the government is not taking my blog as a security threat as I am skeptical that it is drawing policy or political inspiration from my blog posts.
At the moment, I confess that I’m confident in neither option. I do feel nervous about posting this — yeah, I’m paranoid, but I also have to cross the border a fair bit — and I would feel astonished to learn that US policy-makers were considering my blog posts the way they might consider an e-mail or letter I sent to a congressional representative. But I’m looking forward to further discussion (and action!) on how to make blogging a policy input, and I can’t imagine living as an American who was too scared to blog.