John Oliver has become the most important voice in tech policy (and maybe policy in general).
His gift, his talent, his skill: turning wonky policy language that makes people glaze over into messages that people connect to and care about it.
Last fall, he did took what may be the most boring, confusing term ever, Net Neutrality, and made it relatable as Cable Company Fuckery. 8mm people watched that video, and it was a big factor behind the over 4mm comments left at the FCC on an issue that even most tech people had a hard time explaining to each other.
Now, he has tackled another mind bending, but really very important topic: surveillance. It’s amazing really. Huge, complicated, important issue. Real-life spy stories, with real life hero/villains. And no one gives a shit at all. But when you say it the right way — in this case: should the government be able to see your dick pic? — people light up.
This is 30 minutes of truly instructive brilliance:
The best part – he hands Snowden a folder labeled top secret including a 8×10 photo of his own penis. And asks Snowden to re-explain every NSA spy program in terms of “the dick pic test”.
On the one hand, you could argue that it’s sad that policy issues need to get boiled down to “dick pics” and “fuckery” for people to get them.
On the other hand, it’s even sadder that the people investing time, energy, and effort in working on these issues (myself included) don’t grasp that and use it to make sure ideas connect. Thankfully we have John Oliver to help us with that.
This piece is brilliant — in particular the way he opens Snowden’s eyes to the extent to which people don’t get this issue, misunderstand who he is and what he did, and need it to be presented to them in a different, simpler way.
The major point here is that no matter your feelings on what Snowden did, it’s all for naught if it doesn’t trigger an actual conversation. And while it’s easy for folks in the tech / policy community to feel like that conversation is happening, the truth is that on a broad popular level it’s not.
So once again John Oliver has shown us how to take a super important, super complicated, and basically ignored issue and put it on the table in a way people can chew on. Bravo.
From here on out, I’m going to start looking at every policy issue through the lens of WWJD — what would john oliver do — and pick it up from the vegetable garden of policy talk and into the headspace of people on the street.