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The Most Important Technology of the 21st Century

Colorful Glass

Few things inspire a greater sense of hopelessness than politics. People will fight endlessly for their ideology. In the words of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, our ideologies bind and blind us. Our political preferences bind us into fierce rival tribes and blind us to the logic and tastes of others. In most other areas, the 21st century has brought empowerment and connection between us. But politics remains as ugly and divisive as ever.

What if a simple change of frame could not only help us transcend ideology, but bring greater creativity and collaboration to politics?

At Voice & Exit 2014, I argued that we can and should view laws and institutions as technologies, not ideologies. Governance shares much of technology’s basic nature (you’ll have to watch the video to see how!). This shift in mindset helps get us beyond our tribalism. If politics is about technology it seems silly to hate or hurt others for our differences, just as it would be silly for fans of PC vs. Mac to kill or hate each other.

To view governance as technology doesn’t just help tame our political tribalism – it opens a new frontier for social progress. Technology progresses quickly. For the most part, technological change benefits everyone – though it’s not yet evenly distributed. As I argue in the talk, even people at the bottom of the economic pyramid have access to advanced technologies like smart phones.

Can we innovate the technologies of governance? I think so. The proposal I make in the video is called Startup Cities, a method for reforming and innovating our governance in a low-cost and low-risk way. It borrows directly from the spirit and process of innovation in technology. While much work remains, Startup Cities has gone from the chalkboard to reality. We have spent the months since Voice & Exit in the trenches, figuring out just how to bring the powerful methodology of startup entrepreneurship to governance.

Although 2015 has just begun, we are overwhelmed by the interest of changemakers and municipalities in this initiative. We had no choice but to restructure our partnerships, cut back several initiatives, and raise money focused entirely on, well, ‘the product’. 2015 will be our biggest year yet. If you’re interested to see how Startup Cities will begin to change urban governance, please follow our work at startupcities.org.

See more on innovating social technology: join us at Voice & Exit 2015.