Town Meeting Day.

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Town Meeting DayToday, March 4th, is very special.  As my friend Cecilia Lang of the Washington Post reminded me, it’s the only day of the year that’s actually a command – March Forth! – which I now like to interpret as us all marching forth out of this lousy winter into a much better spring.  It’s also Seller Forum Day.  I’m writing this as I await the arrival of 50 Chief Revenue Officers to a beautiful spot at the top of the Hearst Building where we’ll share ideas and issues for the next several hours.  Which leads me to the third reason today is special:  In our home state of Vermont, it’s Town Meeting Day!

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All up and down the Green Mountain State, across 237 towns, nine cities and four “gores” (don’t ask) citizens are gathering in gymnasiums and town halls to participate in perhaps the last acts of pure democracy left in our republic.  While centered on passing or rejecting town and school budgets, Town Meetings also include often spontaneous referenda on everything from paving a local road to pot legalization to taking a stand on an international justice issue.  It’s messy, spontaneous, argumentative, enlightening and inspiring all at the same time.

Just like our online marketing, advertising and media world.

A brilliant tech executive explained to me back in the mid-90s that the internet had grown into a ubiquitous, uniform global network precisely because no one controlled it. Sure, there was a room full of nerds who would distribute domain names, but nobody gave you permission to be on the web or start a magazine or launch a store.  When it came to online advertising, we kind of stumbled and lurched our way forward, every so often stopping to lay in some minimum standards around ad size, technical capabilities and legal.

Along the way, we interactive people have our own town meetings.  At CES, the IAB, SXSW, ad: tech, iMedia, the Seller Forum and many others, we participate in sometimes confusing debate and messy democracy.  Together we’re marking the recent past of our business and iterating its near future.  To the casual observer, it may seem like we have a lot of conferences; that the chief product of the digital marketing economy is talk.  But I clearly have a different take.

We all live in an unfinished, asymmetrical world, moving too fast and divided and segregated by the very technology that’s supposed to bring us together. Heads down in our email or hunched over our phones, we create bubbles where our vision of the world around us gets more and more self-referential and our issues ever more intractable.  If you ask me, there are probably not enough conferences and events.  It’s only by getting face-to-face and elbow-to-elbow with our digital neighbors that we maintain our participation in the future of the business, as sloppy and wasteful as that might seem.

So find yourself a comfortable spot in the bleachers, bring a lunch, and settle in.  It’s Town Meeting Day.

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