Technological Impact on Politics

For those who missed it, Raul Fernandez had an excellent article last Saturday in the WaPo about the impact of the internet on Campaign 2006, especially blogs and YouTube.

He writes:

It’s unclear what the impact of technology on elections will be over the next 12 years. But one lesson should already be clear to politicians: In a world where cellphones are cameras and video recorders, every word that you utter (or text), and every nap you take, can and will be used against you on YouTube.

It is funny and scary how often we get a wake up call about the impact that new technologies can have. This observation reminds me of a WaPo article from around 1999 about Jim Rutt, then CEO of Network Solutions (and allegedly the creator of the term “snail mail” in 1981).  

I cannot find a link, but the basics are as follow: Rutt, a cutting edge technologist, was a participant in many early technology bulletin boards, and sometimes used language that was…how shall we say…colorful. Some of his early postings came back to embarass him later. When he became CEO at Network Solutions, he attached a clearly visible post-it note to his computer screen.

All the note said was. “DO YOU WANT TO SEE THIS SHOW UP ON CNN?”

Technology changes are constantly impacting our lives.  It is especially true in the political arena.

But while the Internet offers technology changes that impact communication and and fundraising, the computer itself has fundamentally altered the way campaigns can be run.  I remember as a college Junior helping state Senator Nathan Miller in his campaign for the Va GOP LT Gov nod.  I was in college in Bridgewater, and I was entrusted to bring several boxes of volunteer and potential donor cards to a direct mail shop in Centreville.  They did the data input, ran the sort, created the database, and out a set of labels for each list, and were paid to do this.  When I brought back the computer print out of the list and the labels, my first job was to run several copies of the labels on the printer so they printed onto other sets of labels to be used for additional mailings.

Consider the work, mileage, and cost of all this, not to mention the fact that all the xeroxed lists would be dated when used.  which took several days to accomplish and at significant expense.

Today, a campaign has to do is buy a PC with the appropriate SW loaded onto the system and laser printer, and almost every step that I described can be done inhouse with volunteers, except you can regularly update the list and print out up to the minute labeling lists.

Back then, when we made posters for mock elections they were hand drawn, using pictures cut out of magazines and carefully taped to paper using transparent tape so there would be no tape outlines when they were photocopied.

Today, the only cutting and pasting is done on the computer screen, and you use clip art and not hard copy pictures.

Things change, the world gets faster, and those who adapt vastly increase their chances of winning.

Mr. Gillespie, you listening?


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