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Notes on Curation: Looking Back on #PDF13, And Ahead

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, June 11 2013

Photo: Esty Stein / Personal Democracy Media

Did we "Think Bigger?" Yes! Beyond the many great individual talks and panels, I was struck to see several cross-cutting themes emerge over Personal Democracy Forum 2013's two days.

1. The power of emotion. For all the emphasis on "big data" and metrics as tools and practices changing the contours of politics, many of the most effective keynotes not only connected at the emotional level (think of Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code, or Nancy Lublin of DoSomething, or Shaka Senghor helping close out the second day) but also made the case that emotional intelligence is as important as data analysis. Sara Critchfield's talk in particular drove that point home, but so did Robin Chase's call for action on climate change and Biella Coleman's review of the causes that are firing up so many members of Anonymous.

2. We are more than what the tools make us. While it is certainly true that technology is changing us more than we might be using it to effect fundamental changes, speakers emphasized again and again that we are still in the driver's seat and can determine how we want technology to matter. That was central to Nicco Mele's talk on the "unfinished future of personal democracy," Dan Whaley's call to turn the web into a massive tool for annotating all of human knowledge, and Joi Ito's closing keynote with its exploration of the emerging processes of "co-design."

3. We're starting to close some digital divides, but we have others to attend to. On the one hand, I think it's fair to say that at #PDF13, the problem of gender and tech wasn't just dealt with head-on, it was almost vanquished. Not only was our overall speaker ratio 55-45 male-female, women keynoters were setting the frame on all kinds of issues. Most important, not because they were women there to talk about "women's issues" but because they were leaders on such topics as figuring out whether campaigns actually change anything (Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Becky Bond), tackling inequality (Catherine Bracy, Nancy Lublin), and changing how government works and thinks (Beth Noveck, Lorelei Kelly).

At the same time, I think our speakers cut new and challenging turf, pointing out many areas where the tech-politics-civic-hacker set has just started to work for change. Beyond repeating many of the talks I've noted above, I'd add Erine Gray's inspiring keynote about "the net and the safety net" and the whole breakout panel on open government and inclusion as vivid calls-to-arms for the attendees at PDF. And while this PDF was the most diverse ever, with 30 out of our 127 speakers coming from communities of color, Latino voices in particular were not well represented.

3. The ideas AND actions are getting bigger! Here are some of my favorites: One million girls learning to code by 2040. The reinvention of the democratic process. Listening and responding in real-time to the entire online conversation about the oceans. Channeling 35 million missed phone calls in India into a political movement (and then building the tool to do the same thing everywhere else). Developing a sane framework for understanding and living with cyber-insecurity. Learning how to live in present time. Embracing the emergence of a continent-wide online public sphere in Africa. Mapping the hidden relationships of 50 million-plus corporations. Getting ready for driverless cars and a time when tech may make it impossible for people to lie, let alone governments to exist as we know them now. And "getting off the plane."

4. Collaborations get sparked at PDF. It was a jam-packed two days, and also somewhat of an eerie time too, with the NSA news breaking literally in the afternoon of our first day. Our Friday panel on "The Camera is Everywhere" on Friday was moved to a larger room to accommodate the increased interest in the topic as a result. And in classic PDF style, many attendees took advantage of all being together at PDF13 to start hammering out the "Stop Watching Us" campaign (PDM is proud to be one of 86 groups joining this call). That is personal democracy in action.

As we go forward, we'd love to hear from everyone about other collaborations and initiatives that were sparked by talks or meetings that happened at PDF13--those kinds of connections are what get us up every morning. So, tell us--what were your reactions to PDF? What connections did you make? How are you thinking bigger?