As a loyal technology fan and social change enthusiast, attending my first Personal Democracy Forum (PDF08) in NYC excited me. The ability to mingle with others who share my interests and desires to use technology to make changes in the world and ease our lives is an unbelievable experience that I couldn’t pass up. As I walked into the Lincoln Center Rose Hall, with the grand glass windows and stunning views of Columbus Circle and Central Park I instantly thought WOW – what an amazing place, just based on the location this conference is going to be great! I then walked into the atrium where many of the sponsors/exhibitors had their booths, and went to join my colleagues at our ImpactWatch booth. As I surveyed the room, I took in the beauty of the floor to ceiling glass windows and looked at the various booths around me. From the previous grand technology conferences/trade shows/exhibition fairs I’ve attended in the past, I assumed that this conference would be like all the others, packed full with booths with insight on new products and ideas and tons of swag, but when I looked around, I realized I had the wrong assumptions. Now, while I will say that the booths in attendance did advertise excellent products, including ours =), I had previously thought this conference would have had more companies in attendance advertising the other great products that are available to the online political community. After this realization, I decided to sit in on my first session and recognized what PDF08 really is all about.

Zephyr Teachout, the Director of Online Organizing for Howard Dean’s ‘04 Campaign, began the forum speaking about the evolution of the internet and the various ways people can use it for social change. As she quoted poet Walt Whitman, “Democracy rests finally upon us,” I realized the overall point of the conference is to network and engage with others about how to use technology to our advantage to address the issues and make progress. It was not as much as about the exhibitors, like at other conferences I have attended, but more about meeting others and dialoguing about our interests and sharing our ideas for the future. Throughout the day I spoke with other industry pioneers who are using the internet to educate the public and at times even ease people’s lives such as Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Jeff Jarvis (Buzz Machine), Robin Chase (Zipcar founder and now Meadow Networks), and Tim Breidigan (Eventful). Each person I spoke with furthered my interest in how I can use my abilities and the internet to aid in the world’s progress.

At the end of day one, Elizabeth Edwards spoke at the conference via Skype, for the bad weather had kept her from reaching NYC, and it was through seeing another example of how the internet connects people and how politicians are making a difference with their use of technology that I realized that change begins with us. Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said in the Closing Plenary: Redefining Leadership in a Networked Age that when, “you give people real power and you trust them, they will then take that trust and take responsibility.”

As PDF Founder Andrew Rasiej closed the conference by suggesting that next year’s PDF be renamed the Participatory Democracy Forum, I reflected and realized that what I really learned at PDF 2008 is that with the creativity, drive, and trust, the public truly can make changes in the world and, it is through the use of technology that we will achieve whatever we put our minds to.