Cory Booker calls for tech-empowered open democracy
Speaking today at South By Southwest, Newark Mayor Cory Booker called for a more open democracy and for government to catch up to society in its use of technology.
Today's political system is too much like a vending machine, said Booker, channeling his friend Gavin Newsom, the Lieutenant Governor of California. You put money in, and you get stuff out. And when that doesn't work? You shake the vending machine.
After joking that many Americans are killed each year by falling vending machines, Booker said he objected to that "linear model." Instead, government should be a collaborative process more in line with the social media technologies of today. "The future of government has to be getting to 2.0," he said. "Like Wikipedia, we're all contributing to the wisdom and the knowledge, and open source society."
Tools like Twitter, on which he has more than 1.3 million followers, are crucial to opening up that dialogue, he said. Booker is a prolific Tweeter, using the platform to communicate with his constituents, respond to civic complaints, and trade barbs with the likes of Conan O'Brien. Booker said he has made some mistakes on Twitter – the most recent of which was an injudicious Tweet in which he quoted Winston Churchill saying a good speech should be like a woman's skirt ("long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest") – but that just shows he's human. Ultimately that's a positive force, he said.
"I try to keep it real, I try to be myself," Booker said of his Twitter etiquette. "The more transparent our leaders are, the more we realize our humanity. And the more our cynicism will go down."
Booker made that call for transparency a hallmark of his address to the audience of about 300 people, and he called repeatedly for authenticity in politics. He decried the fact that politics has become a spectator sport beset by what he calls "sedentary agitation."
"We're losing truth, we're losing authenticity, we're losing the soul of our politics," Booker said to applause.
The Mayor, who will likely run for Senator in the next election and has been touted as a Democratic presidential contender, also spoke about Waywire, the social video startup he co-founded and invested in. He said Waywire, a platform that lets users share and curate videos, is part of a movement that gives more voice to citizens, which will help disrupt traditional media. He sees more value in listening to young people talk to their peers about the costs of college education, for example, than he does seeing the issue discussed on Anderson Cooper's TV show. "We're syndicators of information, we are media outlets that have just as much value as the oligarchy of media that tell us what to value."
He envisioned a world in of an empowered citizenry that takes back control of its politics, and urged everyone to start thinking like entrepreneurs. In this era, we will not be defined by our position in life, but by our purpose, he said. Tools like Twitter and Waywire can help people escape narrow definitions and think broadly about how they will make a difference in the world. "Technology's allowing us to show the full multi-faceted truth of who we are."
Booker was interviewed by Time magazine's Steven Snyder as part of a session entitled "The New Media Politician." After concluding his talk with an impassioned redux of his "conspiracy of love" Stanford commencement address, Booker was given a prolonged standing ovation.