The Technology Party
Every four years when the presidential elections come around in the US, I become both curious and critical of the government, as does everyone around me. What I’m about to spout is entirely idealistic, unrealistic, and most definitely oversimplifies everything. That being said, many people I talk to about government and politics that work in technology think the same way I do. Minor differences aside, I believe there is an early adopter faction growing that I’m tentatively calling “The Technology Party.” Members of this fictional party share the views I outline below. I had at first thought to call it “The Internet Party” but I feel that can be misconstrued as extremist. One who believes in the power of technology and the network does not necessarily think that everything should be open and free, although they may.
Everyone agrees that our government and elected officials are unwilling to embrace technology fast enough. Many of them don’t understand technology, don’t know how to use basic tools like email, and really have no interest in the internet other than as a way to help them win political campaigns on Twitter. The extent of internet technology in the government is ASP.NET websites that can charge your credit card for parking tickets. It astonishes me that the average citizen spends 10 minutes every 4 years, or 3.5 hours in the total of their life, voting for measures that impact billions of people. The internet and mobile phones should enable us to not only make more critical decisions in realtime, but make those decisions better-informed and with a larger participating electorate. There are more cellphones in the US than people but only 63% of people vote.
This problem of making tons of decisions all at once is systemic. Politicians generally employ a waterfall development methodology to enacting change instead of an agile one. This methodology produces two thousand-page long documents that a single person is incapable of understanding or processing, and that must be voted for in an all-or-nothing fashion. The government could learn heavily from lean and agile software engineering ideas.
In addition, the current way things are done makes testing new ideas in the government very difficult, if not impossible. On the web, we test things cheaply and efficiently. A company like Google can test thousands of variations of things automatically and come to the best solution for a given problem within days. I suspect that we could use our local governments as testing buckets in a similar way to how we do multivariate testing on the web. And indeed there is no need to apply uniform policy across all cohorts, or towns, in this metaphor. Perhaps one underperforming town can learn and apply policy adapted from better towns with similar demographics and conditions. That’s what we do on the internet.
In order to fix any of these problems, our senators and representatives need to be more productive. I would be fired if I tried to work 3 days a week. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for our officials to take a little less time off. I also find it strange that we expect our president to, in effect, work only three years on our behalf when we paid for four. We should not expect a lengthy campaign from the incumbent when there is so much to do for our country. If you did good work, it should be more or less self-evident the same way you’ll probably know how good your startup idea is after 3 years.
I strongly believe an internet party candidate does not subscribe to a binary slate of views assigned to them by their political party. Many of us believe neither candidate is very different from the other; if not that, than we certainly believe that neither candidate would have a vastly different total effect on the country. That’s primarily because of how ineffectual government is. I think all of us believe that everyone should be treated equally and be given equal civil rights. That is, for some reason, a recently liberal viewpoint. On the other hand, I think many of us also desire our president to be a strong business leader with an intricate understanding of economics, finance, and accounting. That is for some reason a conservative view.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask for one out of 300 million people to be someone that loves all people, can create a strong and healthy economy with a balanced budget, and is a good enough public speaker and intellectual to fulfill the duties of the president here and abroad. This person also needs to be willing to change their views with the onset of new data, as any good leader does. I am tired of political ads from both sides about flip-flopping views; if you’re not changing and adapting all the time, you are probably making stuff up.
This touches the surface but the general idea of The Technology Party is a society led by technology, not a laggard to it. One where politicians use data and testing to make decisions instead of political contributions. One where all politicians work as hard as we do.