[iDC] FWD: "Hughie" Re: Craig Bellamy: Political Communication

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Mon Jun 26 17:23:23 EDT 2006

Fwd: from ³Hughie² <hmusic at ozemail.com.au>

Hi all.  First-time poster and chronic, freeloading lurker here.

To be honest, I find this stuff unrealistic and techno-utopian. 11 years
ago it would possibly have been ground-breaking  :-). I don't have time
to critique it fully here, (my interests have moved away from politics 
specifically) but a couple of points:

Craig wrote:
"1) What are the Internet's political features?

The main characteristics of the Internet that makes it important for 
politics is that it could be described as an electronic 'agora' or
'global commons'. An agora, is one of the foundation principles of
democracy from the Greek, in that is a place where people come together
to share and discuss ideas about the broader political society in which
they live."

[Yawn] An inaccurate and outdated metaphor. Useful for introducing High 
Schoolers to the idea but that's about it.  There are many significant 
differences between the fora that have yet to be precisely defined but
are too manifest to be ignored.

"In terms of the Internet's unique political features;
each node is privately owned but 'donated' to the network; anyone can
join for a modest fee replaces one-to many communication of mass media
with a new model of many-to-many communication; each consumer can also
be a publisher (low entry levels)
Communication with groups is as easy as communication with individuals
(easy dissemination). It is as easy to send one email to one person as
it is to send one email to a million people."

Well, actually, no.  *Sending a message* to one person is (almost!) as
easy as sending it to a million, but that's not the same thing as
.... too many practitioners have been too slow to figure this essential 
difference out, and it's keeping us in the communication dark ages.
Uncle Rupert (among others) should shut up and listen at this point.

"greatly extends international communications on a person to person
basis can bypass the 'gate keeping' mechanisms of older media."

Well, sort of.  If we're being honest, we'd probably revise that to
*really* emphasise the "Can" and add an "often doesn't".  The figures
are showing that, even on the Internet, most people are sticking with
the trusted "brands" for most of their information and entertainment.
They don't explore much beyond what's thrust into their faces - except
in areas of particular interest, and even then they tend to get stuck in
"silos", particularly when it comes to reinforcing pre-existing
political bias.  There certainly appears to have been a flattening of
the distribution curve for political information but this seems to have
mainly affected political afficionados and not the wider voting public

"2) Why is the Internet Important for politics?
The Internet, in particular, has altered many spheres of political life; 
principally through giving a voice to numerous groups and individuals
that other wise wouldn't have access to any media at all (and this can
be good or bad as it is not just empowering for progressive groups).
Arguably this has altered democratic relationships between government
and citizens and between citizens themselves."

Only arguably.  See the above point about sending messages verses 
communication.  Add to that the point about information silos and you
get organisations finding it easier to preach to the converted, so to
speak. "Governments" seem to be far more interested in "e-governance"
than "e-democracy". That is, they see it as a better investment to make
it easier for constituents to get a licence or bus timetable online than
for them to have any input into policy. That hasn't "altered the
relationship" as much as "greased the wheels" of the existing mills.  (I
apologise for the hoplessly mixed metaphor).

"3) How does it impact upon the public sphere? What sort of politics?
(case studies)
The Internet fits within an overarching historical change that has
occurred since the early 1970s when we first witnessed the marriage
between politics and all sorts of media. Politics has increasing become
a media-manipulation game   [AMEN!!]
Our 'political information systems' are vital in a representative
democracy as it is where people 'deliberate' to make decisions about who
they are going to vote for and why. The public sphere is meant to
contain a variety of views and opinions about issues that concern us
In so me ways, newer communication mediums (such as the Internet) may be 
revitalising citizen participation in political discourse (or at least 
assisting our participation in many components of it)."

But here's the rub: research shows that most people DON'T deliberate.
They vote based on instinct, prejudice and gut feeling - not
information.  Of course, the effects mentioned above have a greater
impact in countries where voting is not compulsory, because it's the
"converted" who do most of the voting. The apathetic remain ... well ...
apathetic. In this sense, the Political Internet and the Agora have a
lot in common: they're elitist and populated by a priviledged and
interested few. The difference is that now, unlike in Ancient Greece,
nearly all of the population have the right to vote whether they attend
the Agora or not. Remember, too, that membership of 
the original "public sphere" was narrow and exclusive ...

What I noticed in e-democracy activities over the past few years is that
a lot of it allows people who were already politically active but
media-quiet (like mens groups and the home-schooling lobby) to make more
noise in fora already populated by people who are politically aware and
active. That has been OK, but if the noise is not carefully abated it
can also have the effect of alienating the kind of swing voters who
would make a difference. That produces a distinctly anti-democratic
result and/or creates a new set of gatekeepers rather than bypassing
them. What the Internet *hasn't* done is drag vast numbers of potential
swing voters into a state of active participation and awareness.

The other aspect that's overlooked is harnessing the Internet's features
to *agregate* opinion to help policy development.  That means
many-to-one communication, not the other possibilities. Not enough
political figures are consulting the community (however constituted) via
New Media - and this is one area where "e-governance" and "e-democracy"
overlap. Apart from a few petitions and the like (and acceptance of
e-mail submission to inquiries), deliberative democracy of this kind has
not been tried as widely as it potentially could be ...

I tend to think that, on balance, the Internet has had a positive effect
on modern public politics and it's made it easier for activists to
organise and mobilise, but a lot of the literature is unrealistic and
techno-utopian. There's a lot more work to be done understanding the
intricacies of the human attention span before we will make much more
progress down this road. Disinterest and ignorance are not going to be
defeated by providing more "information" or "debate" in a crowed, noisy
space, nor by making more spaces. Democracy activists need to Get Out
The Vote more, earlier and with greater effect before any of this makes
much difference.

Apologies for the overly-long post.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ellis Godard" <ellis.godard at csun.edu>
To: "'Trebor Scholz'" <trebor at thing.net>; "'IDC list'" <>
Cc: "'craig bellamy'" <cbellamy at unimelb.edu.au>
Sent: Monday, June 26, 2006 4:19 AM
Subject: RE: [iDC] Craig Bellamy: Political Communication

> My master's thesis (11 years ago) labelled these three aspects as
> focus, and modus, respectively - governance of and within the locus of
> online interactions, design and access of internet as the focus for
> political activity, and use of the internet as a modus for political
> activity (although I conceived of all 3 as related to social movement
> activity more generally, not necessarily political).
> I'm sure Bellamy's taken the ideas further than I ever would have, and
> under no illusion that he's aware of what I wrote or even, more
> that what's quoted below is hardly new, but... What's quoted below
> new. :)
> -eg

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