14 Nov 2005

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

I believe a certain member of the Lee dynasty recently mentioned some up-coming elections. Stand as an independent perhaps. Need a campaign manager? Need a launch pad? Need help raising the finances to run the campaign?

Any Singaporean out there ever considered a career in politics?

The ideas interview: Joe Trippi
The net and mobile phones are giving us the power to change politics for the better, Howard Dean's campaign manager tells John Sutherland

Monday November 14, 2005


Joe Trippi likes to open his lectures with a question. "How many mociologists are there in the audience?" No one raises a hand. He then asks, "How many of you have got mobile phones?" Every hand goes up. "You're all mociologists," Trippi says. "You just don't know the word yet - just like you didn't know the word 'blog' five years ago."
Mociology refers to how mobile and wireless technology has changed the way we do things: downloading music on to a mobile phone, for example, or getting the football scores texted through on a Saturday afternoon. To Trippi, however, its potential lies in how it can be used for political purposes - just as he saw and exploited the possibilities of blogs for political campaigning while running Howard Dean's unsuccessful bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

Blogging and mociology, Trippi is convinced, will revolutionise politics. "When I first started the Dean campaign there were something like 4,000 blogs worldwide," he claims. "There are now 20m and growing. It's an entirely new development - the arrival of the two-way printing press. We have had the one-way press around for centuries, but when you have a two-way press it means that people can actually have a conversation with each other on equal terms. Mobile technology, blogging technology, gives people the ability to connect with each other from the bottom up. It'll do for 21st-century politics what print did for the 18th."

Trippi is not a techno-geek who came late to politics. He's worked on presidential campaigns for a quarter of a century, on and off, advising, among others, Edward Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart and Richard Gephardt. He learned the techno side of things working in Silicon Valley in the 1990s.

As Dean's campaign manager, Trippi ordered the creation of a campaign blog, which he used to communicate directly with supporters. He set up a "Dean in 2004" group on the Meetup Inc website for people with common interests, which managed on one day - November 4 2003 - to mobilise 138,000 volunteers to turn up at 820 locations to campaign for the candidate. And realising that Dean, from a base as governor of Vermont, would never be able to raise the same sums from the accepted routes as Washington insiders, he used the web to ask for donations. The result was a rush of cash that astonished observers.

So why, given Trippi's faith in the mobilising power of new technology, is the former Governor Dean not the current President Dean? "2004 was the birthing stage. Think of TV in the 1940s, when there were only a handful of black-and-white sets in the States - they didn't impact on politics. But they would. The Dean campaign was just the baby steps of this bottom-up empowerment. And if this is its power in the very early stages, you can imagine what changes are coming." That shift in emphasis from broadcast to broadband has given Trippi's latest book its title: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The impact made by Dean's embrace of the web was compared to that of the televised presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. But, crucial as the debates were then, the political system has absorbed and largely neutralised their effect. Won't the same thing happen to the "revolution" once the system comes to terms with it?

"No. The people had no power over TV. The power was with the network, the advertiser, or the politician with his political machine behind him. This new technology puts power in the hands of the average citizen. It's a qualitative difference, totally different from all previous democracies. In the Dean campaign, people realised, 'Wow! We can really connect and change the established way of doing things.' And they did. We began with 432 people nationwide. That grew to 650,000 and we raised more money than any other candidate in history. And it's not just presidential elections. Look at global warming. Is it going to be solved because the leaders do something? Or because hundreds of millions of people do something?"

There is, Trippi says, no inherent reason for mociology to favour liberal causes - "the technology doesn't know or care what ideology is using it" - but, in practice, it has not yet become a tool for the right. "I think the one problem the right has on the internet and blogging is that they tend to be so disciplined about command and control," he suggests. "That's worked very well for them up to now. But it doesn't, and it won't, work for them on the net. Conservatives tend to use the net as a data communications vehicle. For them, it's a messaging machine. The Democrats - the progressives - are much better at growing big connected communities."

What does that mean for the next presidential election, in 2008? "I think there's a good chance that a third person - a third party if you will - is going to emerge, with the power of blog behind them. It has to be from outside. The Democratic party crushed Dean from within. The party will never change from within. In the past you couldn't leave the party. Where were you going to get the money for an effective campaign? Howard Dean showed how - from bottom-up subscriptions of a few bucks. That says to me that very soon, somebody is going to step out of the two-party apparatus. I'm not talking about someone mega-rich such as Ross Perot. I'm talking about a credible party leader who steps out and says, 'You know, we don't need the traditional two parties any more.'"

So the age of the political machine is over? "Yes. The new machinery is in the hands of the people and it's blogging and it's mobile phones. There are those who say you can't change a political system that's as busted as ours. There are others who are realising that, because of blogs and the other new technologies, you can make a change. Democracy is in a lot of hurt right now and the only thing that's going to save it is getting people back into the process. These technologies are coming online just in the nick of time because this world is in a mess of trouble and it's not going to get solved unless we all connect with each other and start to work in common cause."

· The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything by Joe Trippi is published by ReganBooks

Chaos spreads from the web to the streets
The French riots have exposed how little we can control new media, as both sides of the conflict use the web for their own ends Jeff Jarvis
Monday November 14, 2005
The Guardian

It's anarchy. The long-oppressed masses are rioting. The old roles are confused, the old rules erased. Am I talking about the French riots or the internet? Both, of course. It is just my cheap, rhetorical trick to tie the two together. But the arrest last week of at least three young bloggers for allegedly using their sites to incite violence precisely highlights the confusion this new medium brings. So does a controversial government official's use of internet search advertising to push his inflammatory agenda. And so does old French media's fear that covering this explosive story would only favour the politicians they do not favour.
Taken together, this illustrates how media used to be all about control - with journalists and governments managing the messages - but now are all about the loss of control. The audience took over the internet and blurred all the old lines: where is that line now between witnessing and reporting, between communications and conspiracy, between inciting violence and expressing rage, between speech and crime?

The three bloggers arrested in France used Skyblog.com, a major radio station's service, popular with young people. Agence France-Presse reported that one of their blog posts urged: "Unite, Ile-de-France, and burn the cops. Go to the nearest police station and burn it." Is that an order or an opinion? If those were lyrics to an American rap song, would they bring arrest, furore, or fame?


Ben said...

Trippi makes a good point about two-way printing press. However, I don't know if blogs are going to produce an independent president in 2008. With so many bloggers and so many blogs all advocating different agendas, it will be hard to get enough of them on the same page so that they can pick ONE indy candidate to support.


soci said...

Hi ben

I agree, he does have a very optimistic interpretation which ignores the fragmented nature of bloggers. Trying to organise a group of bloggers is like herding cats.

Blogs to me are more in line with organic networks, which form and break up in a very uncontrolled manner.

Galvanising fellow bloggers to support one candidate would involve finding a candidate that many can agree with on numerous policies but not necessarily every policy. Would require a certain level of 'political maturity'.