March 04, 2007 |
A few days ago I did do a half-and-half about politics and tech, so it might come as a downer that I bring you yet another mix of the two. It is a mix we at Profy rarely touch upon (we know how volatile things can get) but today’s climate calls for closer attention to both “industries”, so here’s another such item for you.
Bill Thompson, a journalist and regular commentator for the BBC, recently spoke about the Net’s growing influence on politics and the institution of social networks centered around candidates, parties, and policies. His words are catalogued on the worldwide news service’s website for all to read. And read you should. There, Thompson goes through the litany (briefly) of how connected American presidential candidates are to their bases today. They’re hiring in-house and outside bloggers; they’re spending part of their advertising budgets on ad space on political opinion sites, regardless of whether they speak well of the advertiser.
And the White House hopefuls have basically launched their bids on YouTube. The public now doubles as “amateur” policy wonks, and require that candidates respond to their networks as often as they do reporters and Op-Ed columnists. It’s fair to say that the spotlight upon the political sphere has rarely shone more brightly.
Some analysts offer convincing arguments that speak of unhealthy attention to the details, that the public is either knowingly or unknowingly becoming a massive army of perfectionists, which closes up any chance for genuine debate. But I think differently.
Holding candidates’ feet to the fire so closely as we do today isn’t only healthy. It’s the only way to change the political climates of the world. They certainly need changing. News from campaign trails spreads through social networks faster than newsprint could ever fly through factories, and almost so quickly that one could count headlines written for the next morning as, well… old.
This gives little chance that any candidate will walk through the gauntlet with nary a scrape or bruise. Eventually, they are required to get their suits and shoes dirty and start relying on intellect to guide them right, whereas they once could ride quite easily on crafty copy guaranteed to sidestep the issues. That’s not to say that 2008 in US of A will be without grandiose, baseless projections by candidates and the punditry. But throw in millions of YouTube video clip views and a blogosphere several hundred million-strong, and you’ve got yourself an interesting arena that we’ve sadly long been without. From the mudslinging, more truths will sprout forth than the world has seen in a long time.
In less than 4 years, we’ve gone from being about donations-only relations between the individuals running for election and the citizens asked to put them in office, to a powerful Web-centric body of media hounds who sniff out the slip-ups and basically make or break campaigns. This doesn’t mean we the hounds get to be cocky about the balance of power we’ve forced upon the scene, but we are as equally responsible for the candidates we elect as the media in ’08 and beyond.
We entered a new era in 2000 with the emergence of Web-based donation funds that actually amounted to something worth tallying. We’ve already left that moment in time and are entering a new one. Sure, the donations going to candidates to be recorded within the next two years will undoubtedly amount to more than the record set in 2004, but the larger infusion of cash will be coming from supporters far more informed than in any election season of the past.
Thompson clearly believes we’ve entered a new moment with arrival of networked conversation that now runs both ways in Washington, on Downing Street, and elsewhere. If politicians – whether North or South American, European, Asian, African or otherwise – decide not to “play ball” and bring their views to our table for discussion, they can count themselves out of the running.
Obama was right. The US (and the world) is ready for a new kind of politics. Except it’s not going to be the politicians telling us what track we’ll be riding on. It’ll be us telling them. Us and our socially conscious networks.