Debriefing of our DC Trip

The White House at night

Here’s our debriefing of our DC Trip. We’ll get more videos up over the next few weeks on FastCompany.tv — we filmed most of the interviews with our two-camera HD setup, and they take time to edit.

Themes that kept coming up this week in our interviews?

  1. Our broadband access sucks in the United States. We only have the 15th best connectivity out of all the countries in the world, Representative Ed Markey told me. On the other hand, the CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association defended our broadband status, and explained why countries like South Korea are ahead (I’ll wait until we get the videos up to cover this disagreement in more depth).
  2. Advertising is something that elected officials will watch and get involved in. Several talked with me about Internet advertising tracking devices: it was clear they are worried about our privacy, and FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein is worried about the effects of advertising on children. I will do more videos in the coming months on this issue, probably at Google.
  3. Technology usage has a long way to go in government. I had several conversations with both congressmen and everyday government workers who told me that entire departments were still storing all their data on paper, at great waste. John Culberson told me one of his goals is to get all parts of government data onto computers so that people can watch better where their dollars are being spent.
  4. Our kids aren’t being well educated. Alec Ross told me about being a high school teacher in a Baltimore school in a poor district. His kids had tattered 25-year-old text books. Several of our interviews mentioned that our eductation system needs to be rebuilt to make sure our workers are competitive with those from India and China. More scientists and technologists are needed, they told me, and we’re just falling behind other countries here.
  5. Our immigration policies are screwed up. Getting the smartest people to move to the United States and getting them visas is not something we do well anymore. Ironic in the land of immigration. A couple of Congressmen said that we need reform of the H1-B system, which, they told me, builds a system of indentured servitude. Because a big company probably sponsors an immigrant’s H1-B visa, they aren’t able to leave that big company to do something more entrepreneurial, which would help our economy out more.
  6. There’s a lot of concern for our kids, that probably will turn into legislation. The FCC Commissioner, for instance, talked to my son about his concerns about the porn industry. Advertising, porn, sexual attacks, and other things came up in our conversations.
  7. Gas prices. The reminders were all over the Capitol (we walked what seemed like every hall) in bumper stickers stuck to doors, signs outside of Congressional Offices, and were brought up in almost every conversation. Heck, a Democrat, Tim Ryan, told me he supported Nuclear Energy and incentives to get electric cars back in usage. Now, go back to the 1970s. If he had said something like that inside a Congressional Office he would have quickly been strung up in the closest tree.
  8. AT&T, Apple, and Early Adopters don’t have many friends in Congress. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, even told me she’ll dump her iPhone as soon as Google’s Android is out because she doesn’t like AT&T and also doesn’t like the closed nature of the iPhone. Only two congressmen use Macs. Out of 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. That also demonstrates that there aren’t many early adopters in Congress. Blackberries are used everywhere, though. Many Congressmen showed me that they carried two Blackberries: one for their campaigns and one for government business. Alec Ross told me that Barack Obama has very fast thumbs and is legendary for being able to whip out notes on his Blackberry.

Some things that stick in my mind from the week?

  • The newest museum in Washington DC, the Newseum is stunning. It was far better than I was expecting. They had the top of the World Trade Center there. The biggest piece of the Berlin Wall (and a guard tower). The Pulitzer Gallery there hit my soul hard. The centerpiece of the museum is a huge 2-million-pixel screen that cost more than $3 million and the world’s largest hydraulic elevators. We got a great video tour over on my Qik Channel.
  • I was able to use Qik in the parts of the White House we got a tour of with two exceptions: 1. near the Oval Office (we got within a few feet of the door) and 2. while the President was outside. Even the “pro” camera guys can’t be live with the President outside. Everytime you see him on TV outside he’s tape delayed by at least 10 minutes.
  • Sitting on the balcony of the Speaker of the House was just, plain, cool.
  • My favorite politician that I met? A Republican. John Culberson. Not because he uses social media, either. But because he votes against his party often (more than 20 times against George Bush’s proposals) but also because he has so many interesting things in his office. Zoe Lofgren is pretty cool too. Gotta love it when the first time you meet someone they start talking to you about what you think of Google’s Android.

More later, especially as I decompress and do some more thinking about the trip and what I learned.

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