Sunday, May 20, 2007

Personal Democracy Forum

On Friday morning, I attended the annual conference of the Personal Democracy Forum, held at Pace University in Manhattan. The conference explored the evolving relationship between technology and politics. The morning began with an interesting address by Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law Professor who is the chair of the Creative Commons project. Lessig argued that copyright law should be enforced "when it makes sense," and that there should be a balance between enforcement and flexibility in this digital age.

This was followed by a "keynote conversation" between Thomas Friedman of The New York Times and Eric Schmidt, the Chairman and CEO of Google. With Schmidt fielding questions from Friedman, the exchange focused on how Google is "flattening the world," to use Friedman's terminology. They noted that Google has revolutionized access to people's personal histories, a liability for both politicians and common folk alike. Both Friedman and Schmidt noted that they done things in their youth that were best forgotten, and questioned whether they would survive the scrunity of growing up in the 21st century. The conversation turned to the role of Google and the internet in modern politics, and Friedman wondered aloud whether George W. Bush would have been elected president if YouTube and modern Google had been around in 2000. They also discussed a facinating case last year, where heading into legislative elections, people in Bahrain began emailing each other links to Google Earth showing the excess luxury of Bahrain's royal palaces - filled with expensive cars, boats, etc. The government proceeded to block access to Google Earth, which caused a major uproar far more damaging than the initial emailing. Overall, it was a very interesting morning with some great speakers.

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