Newsom’s Citizenville encourages social change

admin

Austin Aldag

 

I am sure almost everyone that owns an apple product of any kind has already downloaded the new iOS 8.0.2 update the moment it became available. But, when is the last time our government on any level got a much needed software or pragmatic update?

In the astounding ever-changing world of Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and smartphones that we live in today, why has our government remained in the age of the Freedom Request Act, bureaucracy and an unneeded closed opaque system? California’s current Lieutenant Governor, and former mayor of the super tech savvy city of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom seeks to explain the numerous justifications behind this and articulates many ways of how we can bring our government into the twenty-first century in his book entitled Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.

At a 50,000 foot view, this book is a collection of examples of his so called “Government 2.0” at work, but it is much more than that.

“How do we make it possible, through apps, websites, social networking, or whatever, for people to take greater part in governing?” is a recurring question that Newsom asks and attempts to answer in a variety of ways.

In doing so, Newsom explains that in his ideal digital utopian world, citizens would function in the manner of their digital avatars in the ever so popular Facebook game FarmVille. I am sure many of us were culprits of playing this game far more than recommended when it was popular on Facebook.

In “Citizenville” people would carry out their daily lives while relating to the community with utilizing their computers and smartphones as the social medium with the help of apps and the internet. I mean, it worked for fake farmers growing virtual food for phony currency, why couldn’t the same concept of engagement and citizen participation be applied to our extremely unpopular government? But, actually applying this concept and putting it into practice is a whole other question.

Newsom argues that an opportunity to bridge this gap between untrusting citizens and their dysfunctional government while continuing to benefit from the digital age is a Yelp-like review system for civil services. Here people could rate and give vital feedback to the variety of services provided by the government.

In addition, the creation of a Kickstarter type initiative for unmet budgetary priorities and establishing an endowment for innovative projects are brought forward by Newsom. Although he cites many examples of these types of programs, I believe Newsom becomes too optimistic and has his head in the clouds. Yes that may sound good on the superficial level, but is that even rational or able to be done at all?

Another point that Newsom neglects is the one can reinvent the structure and processes of government all they want, but reinventing politics and its practice in the United States is a whole different story.

Personally, though it may be amazingly difficult and people’s jobs would need to change, I believe digitalizing certain parts of government and making them more accessible is a move in the right direction for democracy in the changing world that we all live in.  The ideals that Newsom articulate maybe  cumbersome and difficult on their first read, but the ideas that he presents again and again are of a high value.

Whatever the case maybe, these views and pioneering ideas the Newsom articulates in Citizenville are both critical and necessary if we want to reinvent our government, and maybe politics, in an innovative, comprehensive and enduring manner.