The Dictatorship of the Blogocracy

Congress supposedly blocked the initial US economic rescue package because e-mails to them were running 100 to 1 against bailing out the fat cats of Wall Street. Three days later the e-mails were running 100 – 1 the other way. A week later Congress voted for roughly the same package – plus a little extra pork. Who sent the e-mails? How representative were the views expressed in them? What influence did they have?

Last week I commented on the gulf between the neterati who crammed into party conference events like “Collaboration and control? Politics and the Internet in the 21st Century” and the  rather smaller groups who attended fringe events on Internet Safety or those on technology related topics like Broadband roll-out. Meanwhile during mainstream policy meetings there were many comments about the inability of ICT to deliver anything but cost and time over-runs. No wonder those working in ICT rarely admit it when attending party conferences.

It set me to wondering who was out of touch with who when it comes to discussions about e-democracy. Over a decade ago I learned of automated US e-mail campaigns responded to by equally automated services. This year in Birmingham I was struck by a shadow minister commenting on the possible consequences of the false sense of intimacy engendered by mass messaging to social networks. Most of those who sent genuinely personal e-mails to him were retired.       

Meanwhile the young gossip via social network sites that they increasing access via their mobiles – and take little interest iin politics – on-line or off.

So who reads the political blogs that appear to obsess the Westminster village.

A quick scan of postings to some of the most popular would suggest they are a sad bunch of scatological misogynists, unrepresentative of the (female) majority of electors. It is said that many more read blogs than post to them – but the reported audiences of even the most popular are still modest compared to claimed newspaper circulations or TV audiences.

I also noticed an interesting split at the party conferences.

The audiences at events on Internet Safety were, on average, younger and prettier than those at the new media events – the latter had male majorities in line with that of the current UK ICT workforce. More-over the women tended to show more understanding of how the young of today explore the full range of converging technologies to find what they are told to avoid.

It reminded me of what I learned when helping the Women into IT campaign which raised entry to the industry from 11% in 1988 to 18% in 1994. Women are more interested in how the technology can used cleverly to serve people simply than in people having to learn how to use clever technology to do simple tasks. That campaign confirmed my view, formed during debates in the early 1980s on the cabling of Britain, that the killer applications for the on-line consumer world would be a mix of inter-active video-gossipping, gaming and user generated content. Most of the rest would be big corporations trying to eat each others lunch – particularly the content for which they claim the intellectual property rights.


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From your comments, the fringe meetings at the party conferences this year seem to have tackled real issues: teachers v the Bebo generation, whether the Internet is a self-healing mechanism or needs old-fashioned legal curbs, and whether boys can't handle the toys - and girls would do it better. (I have been 45 years in IT, and my best bosses have been women, for the reasons that Philip gives.) I wish I had been there myself.

What worries me is that all this interesting stuff was on the fringe and not on the main platforms. (Last year, the Tories did get Eric Schmidt of Google on the platform, which I hailed as a breakthrough, but has now fizzled.) Nor can I can detect anything positive from the Labour conference, and Cameron was also negative: closing down ContactPoint, IT Cards and the NHS programme for IT. Nothing positive, with a clear way forward.

Also I worry because the House Magazine, the main organ for Parliamentarians, which has three monster issues for each Party Conference, had nothing on IT policy in any of them. Nor did the IT industry bother to run advertorials in them. The only advertorial was the No2ID campaign. Negativity rules OK in Westminster.

It seems to me that IT - because, as Philip says, of the public sector computer cock-ups - is now further down the official political agenda than at any time in the last 15 years. This is dangerous, because the samizdat Politics 2.0 has never been more aggressive, offering citizens the chance to answer back. It is a recipe for riots in cyberspace.