Catch on a string at PdF

At this week’s Personal Democracy Forum, a sponsor distributed a low-tech, but highly effective stress toy to attendees willing to listen to their pitch: a rubber ball on an elastic string that connects to a velcro band. Strap the band to your finger and you can play catch with yourself. Which is what I came to PdF to do. To my surprise, I also liked the pitch. The sponsor, a division of Washington-based public affairs consultants, uses the Internet, software and analytical brainpower to track story lines and news coverage to measure influence. Which, in a way, is what I do, too.

I discovered that a lot of folks came to PdF for the same reasons. They played catch with familiar ideas. And they used the event to measure influence, familiar and emerging. PdF soared with both activities. An impressive roster of speakers from the converging worlds of political action, civic technologies and individual empowerment stimulated, and occasionally stirred, a network of Web buddies and budding online politicos.

Missing an Aha! moment that changes the world, PdF is more noteworthy for its momentum. At this moment, you can feel democracy shifting amid civic engagement enabled by technology. PdF is a forum where you can almost get your head around that big idea. Organizers Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifrey deserve as much praise for their impeccable timing as their star-studded roster of speakers. In two days of dense programming, content frequently rose to the level of the venue, the stunning Frederick Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center overlooking New York’s Central Park.

Playing catch on an elastic string, a few highlights and insights:

— FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, high-profile tech execs and industry advocates launch an initiative to make broadband access a national priority in the U.S.

— Lawrence Lessig touts the Change Congress movement by using every distracting feature in Keynote.

— Arianna Huffington declares that she knows The Truth that others don’t. About 50 people in the audience who blog at Huffington Post say they agree with her.

— Jay Rosen likens professional journalists to a migrating tribe in the midst of a survival drama.

— Mayhill Fowler demonstrates why she’d be irrelevant without a tape recorder. Did anyone actually read her story (lead buried somewhere in the 7th graph)?

— Virtual Reality pioneer Mark Pesce forecasts that the future looks nothing like democracy “because democracy, which sought to empower the individual, is being obsolesced by a social order which hyperempowers him.” The brilliant-but-huh? text here.

— Obama Girl, because she was there.

— Elizabeth Edwards charms the conference via Skype from her living room because her flight is canceled. Husband, John, the former presidential candidate, wanders into the room and is surprised to find his wife talking into a computer.

— Mark Soohoo, the deputy internet director of John McCain’s campaign, defends his boss for not personally understanding how to use a computer. Tracy Russo, Soohoo’s counterpart on Edwards’ former campaign, takes issue. Then fireworks. The video:

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