I had the opportunity to attend the 2011 iteration of the State of the Net Conference hosted by the advisory committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus.  The event was focused on the political and social ramifications of the technological changes amongst Americans. The panels and speakers discussed privacy/security, telecommunications regulation, intellectual property and innovation in the US and abroad. The conference venue was located very close to Capitol Hill, and there was obligatory mention of legislation, the new congress, and the slow-moving nature of our current government bureaucracy.

Many of the speakers and and panels were aimed toward senior-level government agency officials or legislative staffers, as opposed to members of the private sector. However, I was most excited for a panel looking at social media within the context of audience engagement and democratization of the internet. The breakout was titled The State of the Social Net: A Catalyst for Civil & Political Revolution or a Hyped Distraction and featured

  • Jerry Berman, Internet Education Foundation [bio]
  • Alex Howard, Correspondent, Government 2.0, O’Reilly Media [bio]
  • Andrew Keen, Author & Host "Keen On" at TechCrunch.tv [bio]
  • Lee Rainie, (moderator) Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project [bio]
  • Clay Shirky, Technology Consultant & Author [bio]

Much of the presentation was spent taking about the new Pew Internet Research Center study (about which the Bivings Report did a longer post) and the formal and informal online (and offline) groups that members of the US population are a part of. The facts were placed in context of social media participation, particularly with regard to using online groups to facilitate in-person actions like volunteering or political rallying. Everything was placed in the context of remarks about American democracy made by philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville in the nineteenth century. Most of the panelists agreed that the internet was, in fact, helping make the world a better place and that the social network sphere was allowing users from all over the world to interact and share ideas with greater ease than ever before. However, Andrew Keen vehemently disagreed and noted that our nation’s “rampant individualism’ was to blame for the country not resembling a democracy the likes of which were described by de Tocqueville.
Overall, the panels were well put together and informative. Other speakers covered everything from net-neutrality to DHS regulation and enforcement of copyriht law.

Are you interested in seeing the twitter conversations and statistics from the 7th Annual State of the Net Conference? Check out our SLURP140 created for the event.