The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

From entire conferences to unconferences to new government appointees to full-scale social networks, there’s no doubt that “Government 2.0” has become the latest and greatest buzzword.  Agencies and departments from across the government are jumping on board, starting their own blogs, creating YouTube channels, and tweeting their days away.  It’s also been grabbing all the headlines – in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired,  and myriad others. But is all this talk about the next generation of government really all that new?  I found these headlines from the ’90s in doing a brief Google search this evening:

“Talking to Clinton, Via Computer”

The Bergen County Record, July 29, 1993

“White House Correspondence is Shifting to Electronic Mail”

The Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1993

“Government Expands its Claim on the Web”

Washington Post, March 18, 1997

“Servicing Citizens with the Internet”

Washington Post, April 21, 1997

“Understanding the IT Revolution”

Washington Technology, May 7, 1997

In reading through these and other articles from the deep archives of the media, I was immediately reminded that the challenges the government is facing in implementing social media are the same challenges they’ve faced before in implementing email, in using the Internet, and I would guess even in integrating the use of the telephone.  While the tools and the technology can and always will change, the fundamental challenges of changing the culture of the government remain eerily similar.

Government 2.0 (circa 1995)

Government 2.0 (present day)

People will spend all day on email not doing any work People will spend all day on Facebook not doing any work
We have to block Internet access because viruses will infect our system We have to block access to social media because they’re filled with viruses and spyware
People can’t program a VCR, but we expect them to know how to log into Compuserve? This social media stuff is kid stuff – we can’t expect Baby Boomers to log into Twitter
The public can now send us electronic mail to let us know what they think The public can now comment directly on our blog and Facebook page
Government agencies are creating websites but blocking employee access to the Internet Government agencies are creating YouTube channels but blocking employee access to them
Government sites are organized by agencies’ names rather than the services they perform We want your content, not your agency seal
The National Science Foundation promotes Internet development and hosts “webmaster workshops.” Members of GovLoop organize tweetups and attend Social Media Club events
Government agencies hires web programmers by the truckload to create websites Government agencies are creating entire teams dedicated to social media

It’s easy to get so caught up in the world of President Obama’s Government 2.0 that we forget the mistakes (and successes) of the past.  It would do all of us #gov20 practitioners some good to look back every once in a while at the experiences of our innovation predecessors and try to avoid the same pitfalls, take advantage of opportunities they may have missed, and set some realistic expectations for ourselves.

I say this not to discourage the people doing Government 2.0 nor scare away those who haven’t yet started down that road, but to make sure that everyone realizes that Government 2.0 isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.  It will take time, just as government adoption of email and the Internet took time.

Keep this mind the next time your boss shoots down a social media proposal of yours and the next time you make a major breakthrough with your organization.  We’ve all still got a long way to go.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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60 Responses to “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same”

  1. Emma Dozier Says:

    I suspect that the 1995 experts are keepin’ quiet now and know better than to buy in to the hype – or are they? Where are they? Where can I find a mature and experienced mentor to learn these lessons from?

    🙂 Thanks, Steve. This is a great, new perspective!

    • sradick Says:

      Emma – talk to Mike Russell (@planetrussell). He’s got a great perspective on all of this stuff as he lived and worked through all of these changes back when the ClueTrain Manifesto was first published ten years ago.

  2. Emma Dozier Says:

    I suspect that the 1995 experts are keepin’ quiet now and know better than to buy in to the hype – or are they? Where are they? Where can I find a mature and experienced mentor to learn these lessons from?

    🙂 Thanks, Steve. This is a great, new perspective!

    • sradick Says:

      Emma – talk to Mike Russell (@planetrussell). He’s got a great perspective on all of this stuff as he lived and worked through all of these changes back when the ClueTrain Manifesto was first published ten years ago.

  3. Adriel Hampton Says:

    Another great post, Steve. Reminds us why folks with a history, like Michael Russell, are so important to this ongoing conversation.

    • sradick Says:

      Absolutely Adriel – Mike and I had this same convo before our preso at Government 2.0 Camp as well. That’s an important, and all too often, disregarded, perspective.

  4. Adriel Hampton Says:

    Another great post, Steve. Reminds us why folks with a history, like Michael Russell, are so important to this ongoing conversation.

    • sradick Says:

      Absolutely Adriel – Mike and I had this same convo before our preso at Government 2.0 Camp as well. That’s an important, and all too often, disregarded, perspective.

  5. Steve Ressler Says:

    Fantastic. I’ve used this rationale with others and seems to work if you put the social media movement in the context of history with other examples. Great work.

    • Ari Herzog Says:

      Agreed. Compare Twitter with the Telegram, for instance. Short and to the point.

  6. Steve Ressler Says:

    Fantastic. I’ve used this rationale with others and seems to work if you put the social media movement in the context of history with other examples. Great work.

    • Ari Herzog Says:

      Agreed. Compare Twitter with the Telegram, for instance. Short and to the point.

  7. carol stanley Says:

    Do you think people are getting smarter??? I just think our brains are on overload….We learn something…and then it changes. and then we have to learn something else.

    • sradick Says:

      I don’t know if it’s about getting smarter – I think it’s more about learning from the past and not repeating the same mistakes. What’s that definition of insanity – it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? I hope we don’t do the same with Government 2.0.

  8. carol stanley Says:

    Do you think people are getting smarter??? I just think our brains are on overload….We learn something…and then it changes. and then we have to learn something else.

    • sradick Says:

      I don’t know if it’s about getting smarter – I think it’s more about learning from the past and not repeating the same mistakes. What’s that definition of insanity – it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? I hope we don’t do the same with Government 2.0.

  9. spy bugs Says:

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  10. spy bugs Says:

    Thanks a lot, wonderful post.

  11. Sarah Bourne Says:

    I find this neither discouraging nor scary. I remember introducing email and websites in state government, and now they are ubiquitous. New things come along and some will leap to adopt them and other will express doubts, but then the other things are … not new any more! At some point – and not that far away – all this consternation about “Gov 2.0” will seem so quaint.

    And doubts can be valid and useful: concern about email viruses, etc., has led to great virus protection software and other advances in computer and network security. Doubts help you find and address risks so they don’t hinder success.

    So, we’ve been there and done that, so we know we can do it again!

    • sradick Says:

      Sarah – that’s the attitude that’s going to make Government 2.0 a reality. This is why I always say that those of us who are early-adopters should be embracing the opposing viewpoints, finding out their concerns and fears, and addressing them. That was my one criticism of Government 2.0 Camp this year – we didn’t have enough of the skeptics there. It would do us all well to look back every now and then and remember the lessons learned from the introduction of email and the Internet and apply those lessons to social media now. Keep up the good work – we can absolutely do it again!

  12. Sarah Bourne Says:

    I find this neither discouraging nor scary. I remember introducing email and websites in state government, and now they are ubiquitous. New things come along and some will leap to adopt them and other will express doubts, but then the other things are … not new any more! At some point – and not that far away – all this consternation about “Gov 2.0” will seem so quaint.

    And doubts can be valid and useful: concern about email viruses, etc., has led to great virus protection software and other advances in computer and network security. Doubts help you find and address risks so they don’t hinder success.

    So, we’ve been there and done that, so we know we can do it again!

    • sradick Says:

      Sarah – that’s the attitude that’s going to make Government 2.0 a reality. This is why I always say that those of us who are early-adopters should be embracing the opposing viewpoints, finding out their concerns and fears, and addressing them. That was my one criticism of Government 2.0 Camp this year – we didn’t have enough of the skeptics there. It would do us all well to look back every now and then and remember the lessons learned from the introduction of email and the Internet and apply those lessons to social media now. Keep up the good work – we can absolutely do it again!

  13. Mark Drapeau Says:

    What’s new is the myraid social technologies enabling powerful organizing, co-creation, and collaboration without formal organizational structures.

    • Stephen Buckley Says:

      That’s “new”?

      That’s what we (earlier-than-you-adopters) said every year that new technologies came out in the 1990’s.

      Thanks, Steve, for even recognizing that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

      Were mistakes made? Yes. Can you avoid those mistakes? Yes.

      But the attitude that I see today (and I think Steve does too) is a teenager-ish dismissal: “That was then, and this is now.”

      Let me know if a serious Gov2.0 discussion about Social/Citizen Engagement breaks out somewhere that allows for the possibility of Lessons-To-Be-Learned.

      • Mark Drapeau Says:

        Really, Stephen? You think that technologies from the 1990s were such that people could self-organize and be as influential as they are today? I think many, many experts would disagree.

        • sradick Says:

          Social media today is changing the paradigm of communication, just like the the telephone did, the Internet did, and email did – that’s the same. What’s different is the WAY in which the paradigm is changing. Social media is allowing us to self-organize and collaborate in ways that weren’t possible before. The Internet opened up a whole new world of information in real-time. Email changed the communication cycle from days to immediate. All of these are paradigm changers, but in different ways. Sure, the details will change with each wave of new technology, but the principles of technology adoption and change management have remained the same.

    • Stephen Buckley Says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Steve, to clarify to Mark that, yes, the new tools do ADD to the previous tools for social networking on the Internet (like the simple, but powerful, listserv).

      I simply took issue with Mark’s statement that Web2.0 tools are different because they are “powerful” (thereby implying that previous tools were not).

      As you said, “the details will change with each wave of new technology”, so I hope we all agree that, with each new tool, the Internet gets *incrementally* more powerful for social networking.

      Are cars better than 50 years ago? Yes, but despite the yearly hype that a company has “totally reinvented” the car, the improvements were yearly increments that, if you were a car-nut, must have seemed “major” at the time.

      So, while the Internet certainly changed the paradigm of mass communication, the introduction of certain types of new tools has NOT changed that paradigm. They only make the same goal easier.

      And that paradignm, that mindset, that goal has not changed since the pre-Web1.0 days. So, from the LONG perspective, there is no quantum-leap with Web2.0. (And Tim Berners=Lee seems to agree.)

      But I can still understand how people with a shorter view are apt to view the newest tools as being just “so cool” that, of course, they “will change everything!”

      I’m just trying to get reasonable people to step back in order to recognize the hyperbole (aka, “hype”).

      • Mark Drapeau Says:

        You’re totally right! I have shiny object syndrome in the short view!!!!! I’m relieved. Time to quit pretending I know anything about this stuff and go back to brain surgery.

  14. Mark Drapeau Says:

    What’s new is the myraid social technologies enabling powerful organizing, co-creation, and collaboration without formal organizational structures.

    • Stephen Buckley Says:

      That’s “new”?

      That’s what we (earlier-than-you-adopters) said every year that new technologies came out in the 1990’s.

      Thanks, Steve, for even recognizing that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

      Were mistakes made? Yes. Can you avoid those mistakes? Yes.

      But the attitude that I see today (and I think Steve does too) is a teenager-ish dismissal: “That was then, and this is now.”

      Let me know if a serious Gov2.0 discussion about Social/Citizen Engagement breaks out somewhere that allows for the possibility of Lessons-To-Be-Learned.

      • Mark Drapeau Says:

        Really, Stephen? You think that technologies from the 1990s were such that people could self-organize and be as influential as they are today? I think many, many experts would disagree.

        • sradick Says:

          Social media today is changing the paradigm of communication, just like the the telephone did, the Internet did, and email did – that’s the same. What’s different is the WAY in which the paradigm is changing. Social media is allowing us to self-organize and collaborate in ways that weren’t possible before. The Internet opened up a whole new world of information in real-time. Email changed the communication cycle from days to immediate. All of these are paradigm changers, but in different ways. Sure, the details will change with each wave of new technology, but the principles of technology adoption and change management have remained the same.

    • Stephen Buckley Says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Steve, to clarify to Mark that, yes, the new tools do ADD to the previous tools for social networking on the Internet (like the simple, but powerful, listserv).

      I simply took issue with Mark’s statement that Web2.0 tools are different because they are “powerful” (thereby implying that previous tools were not).

      As you said, “the details will change with each wave of new technology”, so I hope we all agree that, with each new tool, the Internet gets *incrementally* more powerful for social networking.

      Are cars better than 50 years ago? Yes, but despite the yearly hype that a company has “totally reinvented” the car, the improvements were yearly increments that, if you were a car-nut, must have seemed “major” at the time.

      So, while the Internet certainly changed the paradigm of mass communication, the introduction of certain types of new tools has NOT changed that paradigm. They only make the same goal easier.

      And that paradignm, that mindset, that goal has not changed since the pre-Web1.0 days. So, from the LONG perspective, there is no quantum-leap with Web2.0. (And Tim Berners=Lee seems to agree.)

      But I can still understand how people with a shorter view are apt to view the newest tools as being just “so cool” that, of course, they “will change everything!”

      I’m just trying to get reasonable people to step back in order to recognize the hyperbole (aka, “hype”).

      • Mark Drapeau Says:

        You’re totally right! I have shiny object syndrome in the short view!!!!! I’m relieved. Time to quit pretending I know anything about this stuff and go back to brain surgery.

  15. Alexander Schellong Says:

    Steve, I really like your post. One year ago I wrote this post: http://www.iq.harvard.edu/blog/netgov/2008/06/why_government_is_ahead_in_web_20.html and its totally in line with your comments. While I really like the trend, everyone seems to forget to learn from history or just what we know on issues like participation, transparency and the like.

    • sradick Says:

      Alexander – very good correlation between our two posts. All too often, we forget to look to the past for answers that we’re looking for in the present. I think we’re just now starting to realize the promise of Government 2.0, but we must continue to keep the pressure on, and take time out from looking forward to sometimes look back at the past.

  16. Alexander Schellong Says:

    Steve, I really like your post. One year ago I wrote this post: http://www.iq.harvard.edu/blog/netgov/2008/06/why_government_is_ahead_in_web_20.html and its totally in line with your comments. While I really like the trend, everyone seems to forget to learn from history or just what we know on issues like participation, transparency and the like.

    • sradick Says:

      Alexander – very good correlation between our two posts. All too often, we forget to look to the past for answers that we’re looking for in the present. I think we’re just now starting to realize the promise of Government 2.0, but we must continue to keep the pressure on, and take time out from looking forward to sometimes look back at the past.

  17. transpartisan (Stephen Buckley Says:

    Twitter Comment


    Most #Gov20 evangelists are blissfully ignorant of “Lessons-To-Be-Learned” from Gov10 (and earlier) adopters. [link to post] #opengov – Posted using Chat Catcher

  18. transpartisan (Stephen Buckley) Says:

    Twitter Comment


    Most #Gov20 evangelists are blissfully ignorant of “Lessons-To-Be-Learned” from Gov10 (and earlier) adopters. [link to post] #opengov

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  19. osrin (Oliver Bell) Says:

    Twitter Comment


    RT @tweetmeme The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same | Social Media Strategery [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  20. osrin (Oliver Bell) Says:

    Twitter Comment


    RT @tweetmeme The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same | Social Media Strategery [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

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