Everyday Archives and Open Government

Curator's Note

On President Obama's first day in office, he issued the Open Government Directive with the stated goal to make the U.S. government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. The primary method for achieving this goal was technological. All Executive agencies were instructed to adopt 'open data standards' and to connect with constituents using social media. This is Government 2.0.

The Open Government Directive, which became the White House Open Government Initiative, was consistent with Obama's campaign message and was a logical extension of Obama's successful use of social media during the 2008 campaign. In essence, The Open Government Initiative was the U.S. Government's entry into the database culture, an attempt to participate in the archival impulse.

Beth Noveck, Obama's first Director of Open Government, is a great apologist for the Open Government movement. Her TED talk brims with sermonic rhetoric: "The next great super power is going to be the one that can successfully combine the hierarchy of institution...but with the diversity, and the pulsating life and the chaos and excitement of networks."

Open data and 'opening up the api' of government is a technological solution to a socio-politcal problem. Is a government that participates in social networking more just than one that does not? More democratic? Does an app for tracking government spending really make the government more accountable? Does the recent revelation about the NSA harvesting telephone data give the lie to goal of creating an transparent, participatory, and collaboative government?



Thanks for kicking us off this week. Your questions at the end there feel more or less rhetorical, so I found myself thinking, "No, no, of course not, and DUH!" On the other hand, I still find myself feeling hopeful about how social media are being used by local and common-interest communities to open up new possibilities for activism and community-building: witness what's going on right now in New Brunswick and across Canada as indigenous communities rise up against fracking and police violence. But these kinds of efforts, of course, have little to do with "government," being rather opposed to government. As soon as people in power start using an "everyday" technology or practice under the guise of making power more "transparent," it's already too late to really engage with those powers, isn't it? My own university recently co-opted sidewalk CHALKING, of all things: some office or other is now spraying down stencils that advertise online courses and special sessions. So, fine, let them use the sidewalks; we will set up a hashtag communicating and collecting this university's microaggressions; and when they take over Twitter, we'll use something else. One hopeful thing, I guess, is that the hulking bureaucracies of universities and governments can never really catch up to the rapidly mobile, subaltern strategies of everyday archives.

Thank you so much for your great post. I don't have much to add, but like Siobhan Senier, I think it is very interesting to juxtapose the initiative of the government with the efforts of groups and individuals outside of government that use social media to make their voice heard and organize forces to effect change. While the media use of these groups is pragmatical, it seems that the government uses the media as a platform for the performance of transparency.

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