Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lots of Domains of Experience

A friend of mine was posting onto Facebook about food policy over the last few days--the White House Garden (or Orchard), the shift in food policy that Tom Vilsack has hinted at in the Department of Agriculture, the possibilities that healthy-food lobbies are looking forward to. It was a very specific realm of knowledge, and she was trying to keep her friends up to date in what she saw as a deeply important part of public policy.

Another friend of mine uses Facebook to let me know what's going on in Africa/Middle-East news (actually, it's specifically Failed-State news; confined to states in Africa/Middle East that are undergoing genocide or wide-spread plague... disasters man-made or natural).

And another friend of mine is in the intellectual property realm, and used his status to wonder aloud whether Twitter has lost its trademark since we use its name so commonly (see also: Xerox).

I've been using my Facebook status to keep a count-down of days since the Senate concluded that President Bush had personally opened the door to torture (104 days, if you're interested--and still no legal action, despite the fact that that in itself is a war crime).

Each of us has carved a little domain of news that we personally are interested in, and we round up that news for our friends. Most of our friends are not interested in the things we're interested in, but, you know what? We probably make our friends have to find out anyways. Several times, people who aren't interested in politics have asked me what the countdown on my page is. I think they're usually disappointed when they find out.

To a certain degree, this is how we're responding to the insane amount of problems we see in the world around us. We know there's a financial crisis and two wars right now. But we also know there are other, deeply important issues that are going to be overlooked because of those big problems: the deep flaws in our intellectual "property" policy, the deep flaws in our Congressional elections, our food policy, etc. etc. etc.

So each of us just grabs the one we think is important, and keep an eye out for a moment to take action. If my friend who's watching Africa were to suddenly send me a message that said, "Here's the day we can take action on Darfur," I'd be up in arms--it'd be time for me to set aside my concern (intellectual "property" and Constitutional governance) to work towards hers.

I think that's the future of citizen activism. Everyone keeps their eye on their own issue and waits for the moment to strike.

Food policy, for instance, is rousted this week because Mrs. Obama announced she was going to create a vegetable garden. This is their moment. Michelle Obama opened the door to starting another conversation about healthy food, sustainable resources, and everything else that the healthy-food buffs want to talk about. And I'm interested to see how that works out for them.