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.