Activist Nerds

Conservative pundits have over the last couple of years adopted a catch phrase to define legal decision-makers that they disagree with: “activist judges.” Perhaps in another post, I will break down exactly how idiotic the notion of an “activist judge” is.

But I like the concept of prepending your favority noun with the word “activist,” and therefore changing its meaning to fit the context you select for it. We can do this for all kinds of things: “Activist preachers,” “Activist infants,” “Activist insects,” the list goes on.

I’d like to use one that may be more near and dear to my heart, and perhaps a bit more useful: the “Activist Nerd.” Is this simply a rebranding of the technocrat? It could be, but it’s much more broad than that. As society becomes more dependent on information technology, policy makers will be faced with more and more technology-related legislative decisions. Examples include the respective “innovation agenda” proposals by Democrats and Republicans.

Technology decisions, like any other policy decision, is best made by those with [at least basic] experience with technology. The average baby-boomer politician lacks this experience, and that leads to very irresponsible technology legislation. An examples include HR 4194, which include directives that may limit the free expression of bloggers.

The next generation of political leaders will not have this problem to the same extent, but it will still exist. Why? Because we tell people who are technically apt (either by trade/training or naturally) to worry about their fields and not about politics or social issues. Similarly, when someone is eloquent and expressive, we tell them let the “nerds” worry about that “other stuff.” What I see is a merge of these two “types” of people on the horizon. That is a great thing, and it will produce a diverse set of capable leaders that can make informed decisions on a wider array of issues. My hope for these leaders it that their technical expertise will enable them to make more objective decisions since they are more used to parsing massive amounts of both technical and non-technical data effectively.

For those who want to be more nerd than activist, there are solutions. A great example is Riot Tones, a service starting next month that will allow you to create/download/share politically motivated ring tones for your phone. Great idea. Fun idea. Nerdy idea. For those who want to be more activist than nerd, start a blog. That’s what I did.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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