Technology Catches Up to Public Discourse, Leaving Government No Choice but to Listen

By webadmin on 01:48 pm Aug 16, 2012
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Arief Aziz

When the Corruption Eradication Commission was denied funds by the House of Representatives for its desperately needed new building, thousands of people decided to chip in. They have raised almost Rp 400 million ($44,000), with a maximum of Rp 10 million per contributor.

When efforts to lobby the government failed to stopping the cruel dolphin circuses in Indonesia, a group of animal lovers started targeting companies that were supporting the shows.

They started petitions on Change.org and managed to get more than 80,000 signatures from people in Indonesia and around the world. This prompted large companies such as Garuda, Hero & Giant, Carrefour and Coca-Cola to stop all forms of cooperation with these shows immediately.

The issues are different, but the sentiment is the same: If the government won’t do it, then let’s do it ourselves!

As the middle class has expanded over the past six to eight years, the anxiety of its citizens has also grown.

People are anxious for change, and they can’t wait any longer. Initiatives, communities, social movements and even businesses have emerged as a form of dissatisfaction with the current system.

Great initiatives like Indonesia Mengajar and Akademi Berbagi have been filling the void in the education system. Knowledge networks such as Obrolan Langsat and TEDxJakarta have become alternatives to the current media landscape. Social enterprises such as Telapak, IBEKA and Wangsa Jelita are booming as alternative solutions, not only to unethical corporate practices, but also to the inefficiencies of nonprofits.

This can be interpreted in two ways. The first is that the ones in power have failed to listen to the people. Or that there’s a newfound energy pulsing through the people, coupled with the emergence of a technology that has just caught up with that spirit. In most cases, it is most likely a bit of both.

There is now a growing public discourse about 2.0 technology catching up with the 2.0 spirit.

The term “2.0” became known through Web 2.0, and has been used (and misused) many times. The concept of Web 2.0 began with a conference brainstorming session between Tim O’Reilly and MediaLive International back in 2004.

O’Reilly emphasized one of the main properties of Web 2.0: The platform property. A property that placed the users at the center of everything — as content providers, marketers and consumers. With Web 2.0, information was no longer spread from the supplier to the consumer. It was now by the users, and for the users. Sound familiar?

The 2.0 paradigm is not at all a new concept in politics and governance. Democracy is in fact Governance 2.0, superseding the 1.0 version known as monarchy and totalitarianism.

The narrative of democracy or “people’s power” has often been wrongly credited to the West but in fact, Indonesia’s identity has been dramatically shaped by the 2.0s of 1908, 1928, 1945, 1966 and 1998. One of those 2.0s we are currently celebrating the anniversary of, and a well-deserved one.

And now finally, the technology has caught up with the spirit of 2.0, the idea that anyone, anywhere, can join, start and realize the change they want to see. Generic social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Change.org have been proven to be extremely powerful catalysts to these movements.

How about the role of 2.0 leaders? When talking about a Change.org petition started by anticorruption activist Teten Masduki on the driving simulator case at the police force, a member of the House of Representatives said, “These are the things that destroy the democratic process.”

Actually, this is a democratic process. And this form of it will only be more common in the future.

The relics in office have two choices. They can deny it, dismiss it and see it as a weakness to succumb to digital pressure. Or, they can embrace it, leverage it and see it as a strength to actually listen to the people. They can treat it as a source of criticisms and ideas, or as a conduit to quite accurately listen to the people.

Just days ago, Saling-Silang.com showed an infographic from PoliceOne.com about how law enforcers use social media to detect and prevent crime in the United States.

The Obama administration created a website, We the People, where people can start their own petitions. If a petition gets significant attention, it is then sent to the appropriate policy experts and issued an official response. Regardless of what the response might be, the process of having that conversation is an invaluable one.

More and more the role of leadership will shift, from the source of wisdom to the facilitator of society’s wisdom. From the ultimate provider of solutions to an incubator and one who implements existing societal solutions. From “satria piningit” exclusivism to the paradigm of collective heroism.

Arief Aziz is communication director of Change.org, Indonesia.