I remember the meeting clearly, as if it had happened only last week. I was sitting home one evening nursing a sprained ankle, while looking forward to attending a controversial city council meeting. Normally any resident who lacks sufficient locomotion or is weighed down with responsibilities has no way to offer a point of information or perspective to these meetings, as one has to be physically present, signed in and ready to spring up and sit at the inquisitional, er, public input table to be recognized and heard.
Realizing that democracy should not be dependent on being physically present, especially in a town widely known as bursting with bandwidth, I got ready to enter the council chambers. At one point during the meeting, after listening to a proponent misstate the facts, I was able to appear in a flash using telepresence: Video conferencing, white board, all manner of documents and news quotes and a sharp, clear physical image to add what I could to the process. After making my case, I disappeared like a pinhead-sized dark hole that I pray is not generated inside Europe's Large Hadron Collider.
This is the danger of dozing off and dreaming of what could be.
The Holy Grail at the end of the video conferencing trail is "telepresence," but there is little interest in it locally. As one member of the council once said: "We already have enough people making comments. To open things up to hundreds more would mean nothing would ever get done." I'll take that as a no.
Every year I corner a member of the council or a new high city official and repeat the obvious: We have massive bandwidth, one way or the other, throughout the vast majority of the city, though very little cutting-edge technology is employed, especially in terms of including the residents in matters before the city council.
I have dreamed for years of a virtual city council meeting in which any of us, after being vetted as to our real name and contact information, could appear in a video link, able to point out a factual error or lend perspective to an issue that is being debated anew for the eighth time.
But Lo, this is not being encouraged. No phoning in, no emails accepted, no YouTube videos flying in to view, no texting, no new documents to shed light, no mouse-squeaks, no teleremote live feedback of any sort is allowed, thank you.
Coverage of council meetings is being pushed towards the viewer, as a television or streaming Internet feed, who cannot call in to say to an impartial ombudsman, that the last comment was false and, should the council be willing to listen, these are the documents that detail the facts, which are now being sent to you, for review and collective memory enhancement.
Currently, the only way to keep the discussions factual is to show up well versed and hope that a waving hand will somehow be recognized amid late hours and complex issues. Of course that means in most cases piling into a car and belching your tailpipe down the way for a physical appearance in council chambers built to discourage large-scale public input. But you already knew this, no?
So, without feedback from those stuck at home, decisions can be made and the gavel fall based on erroneous information, whether intended or otherwise.
What's life without a dream? Even if the dream is limited to the hope that a government official will actually call or email you back about matters of local importance.
Lance@journalist.com was last seen running kite string between two orange juice cans in an attempt to get instant feedback to the council. Two highly-placed officials were soon on his trail with scissors in their hands, looking to snip this concept off in the bud.