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politics, technology

Give new statecraft a chance


Mary Joyce, you lost me at hello. I can only hope you’re playing at fashion police, when you say “white guys in white shirts” are the status quo and therefore can’t represent change at the State Department. But we could try sending Ross and Cohen some hipster T-shirts to see if that helps.

The beliefs including ending the era of “white guys with white shirts… determining the relationship”, replacing ideology with openness, and broadcast with conversation.  Yet the policies described in the article reveal a shift in the type of “white men in white shirts” making policy decisions: away from career diplomats and towards young staffers and technology entrepreneurs. The article opens with a full-page photo (left) of the two young leaders of this movement – Jared Cohen and Alec Ross- walking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Blackberries in hand: two white men in white shirts shaping the (new, digital) relationship America will have with the world.

You’ve got a point, in that a list of Voice of America headlines on Twitter does not equal social media. But Ross and Cohen have about 300,000 followers apiece. They spend a lot of time answering messages, tweeting about others’ blogs, and sharing personal details that are decidedly off-message. In short, they listen–and in a distinctively Twitter way. You can’t simply buy 300,000 followers the way you can buy broadcast hours and or a media company. Well, you could, but I don’t think they did.

Where is the beef? Is it the New York Times’ selection of Twitter celebrities for a focus piece? Or is it that Ross and Cohen’s approach to “muslim engagement” (as presented in the article) is shallow and rings hollow? Or is it that Google is a poor choice of partner for technology innovation?

I disagree that Google’s apps won’t constitute innovation. It’s hard to overstate the impact that the Web, web search, web transactions, and mobile telephony have had on our personal lives, our education, our political discourse, and our commerce. Google has the luxury of distributing apps for free, which might just create rivers of economic value somewhere downstream. And unlike a hydroelectric dam, once the app is released it lives or dies by consumer demand (even at the price of zero), provides no immediate opportunities for corruption, and consumes no state resources.

I would be surprised if State didn’t meet with local activists, and I’d be even more surprised if the NYT ran feature articles on those meetings.

But I like your post on the Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks.

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About Ben Mazzotta

Ben Mazzotta is a postdoc at the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME). His study of the Cost of Cash is part of CEME's research into inclusive growth.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Give new statecraft a chance

  1. My “beef” is exactly as you have surmised: initial frustration at the author’s fascination with gadgetry, brand-name tech companies, and online celebrity (which skews public perceptions of how tech changes politics) and also deeper concern that the current approach at State is shallow in that it is still in broadcast mode. I do believe that the idea of 21st century statecraft is a good one and a necessary one, but we are not there yet.

    Posted by Mary | July 29, 2010, 11:48 am

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