Andrei Cherny, the youngest speechwriter to work in the White House, offers a provocative challenge to today's policy-makers, as well as those waiting in the wings to radically change government to match 21st century demands. In his book, The Next Deal -- which also can be found with the subtitle The Future of Public Use in the Information Age -- he calls for leadership and a governance vision to match Thomas Jefferson's notion of a "participating democracy."
Nearly 20 years after the dawn of the Information Age (he marks the date as January 1984), Cherny marries the convergence of the New Economy and the Information Age with a new governance model, reflecting the role of individual participation and responsibility. He describes the Choice Generation as those who "... grew up in a world where government itself has increasingly seemed a Machine Age anachronism -- wasteful, corrupt, distant and laden with bureaucracy. They order blue jeans tailored to their measurements by computer, but stand in endless lines to pick up forms at the Department of Motor Vehicles."
To be sure, the Information Age has provided the Choice Generation with an instant-demand/instant-response frame of reference, which makes them indifferent to a government apparatus that is stuck in a 20th century framework.
By engaging the reader in a compelling historical primer of parallels from the Industrial Age to the present, Cherny supports his thesis that the "Information Age will revolutionize community and government by taking power from huge hierarchies and putting it into the hands of individuals." He argues effectively that our present-day centralized, bureaucratic structure is the aging remnant of a governance model shaped by the Industrial Age.
Whether you agree or disagree with Cherny's political views, an abundance of evidence supports his notion that today's Information Age citizen has a tremendous impact on government. Survey after survey in e-government's early days found citizens' primary desires and uses on the Internet were to communicate with their leaders, influence issues and hold government accountable. The first wave of transactional e-government services, however, was a direct effort to get citizens out of that "DMV line."
Today e-government is morphing into a full digital government model, providing another channel for individual access and participation while transforming government -- at least on a process level -- much as Cherny predicted.
Even more dramatic is the changing relationship between citizens and government, and its impact on the political landscape. The Information Age has now permeated every aspect of our daily lives, as well as our notion of community. The Internet has become an integral part of political campaigns, designing individual messages and issues to targeted groups and constituents. Lobbyists can now summon massive pressure from individuals to their elected officials overnight. The list goes on and on.
As we find ourselves at war, we realize technology not only plays an unprecedented role in the conflict itself, but has enabled citizen participation and influence unlike any time in our history. Web sites and the Internet play a historic global role. Whether advocating peace, organizing support for our troops, communicating with loved ones overseas, or accessing information from other nations, this instant networking has empowered individual citizens.
In the words of one activist commenting on choreography of a massive global demonstration organized through the Internet: "... for so many people this was the first time they became engaged in a social movement. They went from being passive consumers of democracy to really being citizens. They are on fire."
Thomas Jefferson would be proud.
Marlene Lockard, a vice president with EzGov Inc., is the former CIO of Nevada.