technology vs. law
November 19, 2002
I'd been studying Segway's cross-country legislative efforts with interest even in advance of John Borland's excellent CNET story, since they've managed to get laws changed in approximately 60% of the country already, with a total lobbying budget of under a million dollars.
Interestingly, that lobbying budget doesn't include any actual lobbyists. Most of the revisions to code were passed due to old-fashioned glad-handing, either by local representatives hired by Segway or by letting legislators hop on the Segway for a ride.
This raises an interesting question about the viability of the technique for future technology-oriented legislative efforts. Even by the pathetic social interaction standards of geek culture, technologists' efforts to reach out to lawmakers has historically been truly unimpressive. And for all the "they are old fogies who don't get it" rhetoric, it seems that technologies that are simple, approachable, and useful can do a good job of persuading legislators to modify code to allow for innovation.
Granted, this is in a realm that's mostly covered by local laws, and there isn't a significant financial threat posed to any existing market by this product. (Who's going to lobby against the Segway? Nike?) But the future of technologies with signficant social planning implications, such as Wi-Fi and pervasive broadband, are going to be determined on the level of municipal zoning code as much as by state or federal laws about airwaves and frequencies and broadcast rights.
Could the geographically distributed nature of various weblog communities be used to spread technology-oriented messages much more effectively? National support for a local candidate for office is damned near useless, since people can't vote in districts where they don't live. But leveraging the strengths of the network by distributing issue information and communications tools for in-person individual lobbying seems a potential that's gone largely untapped.
And I know there are attempts right now. I can go to the EFF site and send my congresswoman an email saying I'm against some esoteric issue, and her intern will send me back a form letter thanking me for taking the time to spam them. But what about actual assistance with strategy? I want a (heaven help me) PowerPoint deck with slides about the real-world benefits of a technology. I want to have a page tell me how to get in touch with local press or (here's where that database of legislators comes in handy) when my representative has a community-outreach event scheduled that I could use to make my case. I might even want techlegislation.meetup.com or something like that.
I hope I'm just late to the party. I hope someone's already doing what I'm thinking of. Lemme know.