Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Obligatory comments about the medium

Here are a couple quotes I found interesting re: the use and influence of the Internet.

First, near the end of an essay in The Atlantic, "Four More Years? The Invincibility Question," by Patrick Buchanan:
Bush . . . has something Nixon and Reagan never did: what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called "second and third echelons of advocacy." Conservatives, libertarians, and populists of the right dominate talk radio, the Internet, and the cable-TV channels that are nibbling the network news to death, and they are fully competitive on the op-ed pages of the national press.
Second, a piece in Sunday's Opinion section of the LA Times by Kevin Starr, California's state librarian and an author of many books on California's history, "Politics, Wired: Recall may be dizzying, but it portends a revolution in governance."
As Marshall McLuhan foresaw some 40 years ago, the media revolution has expanded the bandwidth of politics. We live in an around-the-clock information environment in which radio, television, the Internet, newspapers, e-mail, instant messaging, entertainment, blogs, etc. are continuous and interactive. This situation has four major political effects.

First, people are becoming increasingly high-speed and interactive in the way that they absorb and process information. This is especially true of younger people, whose dexterity and speed in navigating the Internet can be breathtaking. Even Californians who came of age in the pre-Net world have broadened their sources of information. Just consider how often you acquire information by word of mouth from someone who picked it up on the Internet, hours in advance of radio, TV or newspapers. . . .

A continuous multimedia environment, secondly, has expanded the universe of governance to include entertainment celebrities, radio talk-show hosts, sports figures, electronic and print pundits, blogs and mega-wealthy activists. One doesn't have to hold office, in other words, to participate in governance. . . .

The high-speed Internet- connected multimedia culture, thirdly, cannot be controlled at any one point. It is open, unfiltered and rabidly democratic. Now it helps spawn political candidacies. For example, Huffington said that one reason she's running for governor is because of all the e-mails she'd received urging her to run. Candidates open Web sites, not headquarters. The political debate is conducted in cyberspace, with blogs of virtually all political stripes and voters providing the dialogue — and it's instantly accessible. . . .

The new environment, finally, demands a personal connection. In the early 1900s, pioneering film theorists — Hugo Munsterberg, Vachel Lindsay and William Dean Howells among them — contended that motion pictures offered audiences a form of collective dreaming in which contact between individuals on screen and in the audience was of a direct and personal kind. We do not merely watch our favorite film actors. We enter into subliminal dialogue with them.

Californians seem to be demanding a similar connection with their political leadership. This doesn't mean they want to press political flesh, though physical contact always seems to help. Rather, they look to media to provide the contact, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did with his fireside chats. Roosevelt exploited what McLuhan later described as the vivid intimacy of radio, second only to the telephone as a mode of person- to-person subliminal contact. Seen in this light, the "Arnold" phenomenon seems more than mere celebrity worship.
Read the full piece for Starr's conclusion that "[g]overnment is just too slow compared with the ways other sectors of society go about their business."

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