Tilting at Titans
Yesterday I was fighting for consumer privacy, pondering global Internet freedom, and drilling down on the perplexing "right to be forgotten" issue. Today I am a "Titan" or more precisely, a "Tech Titan," according to Washingtonian Magazine's annual list of influential people who touch technology in Washington from a host of different angles.
I am at once humbled and honored to find my name listed among the likes of Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and Steve Crocker, among others on the technology “thinkers” list. If I’ve got my mythology right, these guys are the real Titans, the elder gods who begat technology that begat we Tech Titans (who should be casting a cautious eye at the Olympians of tech, those up and comers who, like the Olympians in the myth, eventually overthrew the Titans). At least there were women among the Titans and yes, they were referred to as Titanesses. Wasn’t sure which Titaness to claim, but, the Facebook App "What Titan Are You Most Like" tells me I'm Themis, who is "of good counsel" and stands for law and order. Not sure of the proper abbreviation for Titaness in formal communications.
While the Titan moniker is flattering, the "we are the Titans!" refrain gives me pause. Titan mythology is an alliterative story line sewn together with the sub-plots of conceit, conspiracy, collusion, cannibalism, and castration… among others. Few of the Titans worked together to get the world right. They were too busy guarding their own power or plotting against their children. The Internet would never have come to be nor would it have been able to flourish if all the key actors, starting with the founders, ("Thinkers" as the Washingtonian dubbed them), viewed themselves as Titans. We are where we are today because of collaboration and the open exchange of ideas on technology and policy. That's not say there aren't old school Titans among us, at least not among the "Thinkers".
But there is no "Titan" in the corner office at CDT, although I may have a better view of the crows decimating the pigeon nests in Farragut Park. We are a collaborative enterprise whose value comes from the cross-pollination of the staff's expertise, creativity, insight and our engagement and collaboration with others. We lean forward and listen closely to figure out where we stand. Killing off the competition is not our style; if anyone knows of an ancient myth from any culture that better suits CDT, let me know. The whole Titan thing needs a rebrand.
Whatever the label, these lists are at once notable and baffling for not only who is on the list but also who is not. I'll just call out two who immediately to mind: Danny Weitzner, and Gigi Sohn. Danny, whose pedigree can be traced back to top positions with CDT, MIT and NTIA, now calls the West Wing "home" as deputy to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. And Gigi, president and co-founder of the public interest group Public Knowledge, is an indomitable voice for user rights in cyberspace. I value their expertise, their insights and their energy. They are like the most wise of all the Titans, Prometheus, and are among my favorite Tech Titans… just ignore that pesky part of the myth where Prometheus is chained to a rock and each day his liver…