In a must-read for political and policy junkies as well as futurists, Mele argues that the Democratic and Republican parties must urgently embrace the bottom-up ethos of radical connectivity -- or perish. He also says arguments over the size of government are outdated, because the real question is how we redefine governing for the digital age.
"When big government gets too powerful, we risk authoritarianism and an erosion of individual autonomy. Whittle it away, though, and you get something else — chaos," Mele writes. "Should present trends go unchecked, it is easy to imagine a nightmare scenario of social breakdown facilitated by radical connectivity."
Sound extreme? Consider, as does Mele, the harsh lessons of history. After describing the fall of seemingly immutable European monarchies at the turn of the 20th century, Mele writes:
"We're at the beginning of a similar epochal change in human history. Scan the headlines every morning — through your Facebook and Twitter feeds — and you can feel history shifting under your feet. Every day I find more and more evidence that we are in the twilight of our own age, and that we can't quite grasp it, even if we sense something is terribly amiss. This transformation transcends any one realm of life — it's all-encompassing, even if, as we've seen, it proceeds unevenly and paradoxically. Our twentieth-century institutions, which seem as foundational or ahistorical as hereditary monarchy, are on the cusp of collapse — or, if not outright collapse, of irrelevancy and anachronism."
"Something is terribly amiss" — a summation that especially resonates after a week of momentous events that both challenged and exposed ill-equipped institutions of government: The Boston City Marathon; ricin-laced letters sent to Washington; the explosion of a lightly regulated fertilized plant in Texas; and the demise of gun-safety legislation drafted in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The quick identification of the Boston suspects was a victory for old-school police work, both helped and hindered by social media, smartphones, security cameras, and other assets of a digitally woven world.
Polls consistently show our faith in institutions in steep decline. In particular, trust in Washington is at near-record lows because the current model is a "vending machine government," a phrase Mele borrows from technologist Tim O'Reilly to describe public frustration. Politicians make promises, we pay taxes, and our participation is limited to "shaking the vending machine."
Instead, Mele writes, government should be considered a "platform" upon which individuals, organizations, and companies can build services and offerings that suit the times — flexible, transparent, and accountable.
"Essentially, government as a platform presume that government should provide an underlying infrastructure and then let us build on top of that infrastructure in a wide variety of ways," Mele writes. "It does not necessarily mean smaller government — but it does mean the end of Big Government, with many smaller units of government."