Mrs. Eva Kjer Hansen
Member of The Danish Parliament and The European Parliament
The Danish Liberal Party
Dear Mrs. Eva Kjer Hansen,
Indeed I do remember our brief conversation in Chicago and I am delighted to hear from you. You have asked the key question: To what extent is the political debate altered by the Internet? I would answer the internet changes everything. I have only come to the understanding of why this must be so in the last several days.
The essential insight is this: any fundamental restructuring of the flow of information and capital must restructure capitalism and politics as well.
That is to say, it is true that our current financial and political systems deeply reflect the flows of capital and information in an Industrial economy with its associated communications technologies.
My premise is that the internet turns industrial communications on their head. We are already talking of the move from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy -- an evolution made possible by the internet. The question that is unanswered is whether or not this is a discontinuous change - a punctuated equilibrium.
Below, please find two items:
So the restructuring of the flow of information and capital restructures capitalism and politics as well!
Thus we will see a transition from heavily centralized Industrial capitalism, markets and politics to a new system built upon broadly distributed Knowledge capitalism, distributed markets and distributed politics. The enablers will be a secure and ubiquitous GII and micro-payments.
The essay follows:
You [a member of the press] ask a good question:
[I thought I'd write about the role of cyberspace in this year's political campaign. It seems to me virtually (pun) non-existent, not even up to the presence of the 1992 campaign. Since you had so much to do with Clinton's use of the net in '92, I thought maybe you'd like to comment for a quote..]
Certainly it was impressive to see at the Democratic convention three or more URLS on bold, back-lit display around the auditorium. Clearly the Democratic News Service [DNS] was a huge leap from where Jeff Eller and I were in July 1992 at the Convention in New York. The DNS was also a big step beyond what we had in Little Rock in '92.
By another measure, both the Republicans and Democrats are spending in the six figure range for their New Media efforts - principally web sites. Let us not forget that the world wide web did not, for all intents and purposes, even exist in 1992. As for a budget in 1992, let me respond by asking "What budget?" We operated by the seat of our pants and by the graces of many wonderful volunteers. So by the measure of real budget growth we have also come a long way in four short years.
The New Media head count also tells a story. In 1992, the Clinton campaign New Media head count was two: Jeff Eller and Jock Gill. In 1996 the head count is considerably higher.
Further, the number of voting age Americans who are online in 1996 dwarfs the number in 1992 - a bit of research could generate some reasonable numbers. Simply look at the total membership of AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy in 1992 vs 1996.
On the other hand, we must not forget that even in 1996 fewer than 20% of voting age Americans are online in any form. So of course politicians must address the 80+% of the voters who care not one whit about the online demographic. This drives them to TV. It must also be remembered that political consultants get 10% - 15% of all 'media buys'. That is, if a campaign spends $15 million on TV adds, the consultants will get paid at least $1.5 million. What if the consultants could make the same kind of money from New Media campaigns?
Humility is a useful thing as well. As of the moment I can not point to a single politician who won or lost as a result of the use or mis-use of New Media. Nor can I point to any politician who has raised $1 million from the community of voters online. So, in a "I am from Missouri, show me" world, why would anyone pay the slightest attention to the online demographic?
Yet I would agree with you that something is missing. In 1992 we had novelty on our side. That got us a lot of attention and even an award as the email event of 1992.
In 1996 novelty no longer works for a greatly more sophisticated online demographic. My suspicion is that New Media are under performing in 1996 simply because they are only delivering old media content and have not yet caught on to what I am calling "Conversational Politics". Check out my web site for my Conversational Marketing speech slides - look under [What's New].
In short, conversations are at least 50% listening and I see very little listening at the principal political web sites. What I do see is a lot of sending messages, one way, at targets. My guess is that these voter-targets have gone numb after 100 years of being the victims of legacy media targeting. What I expect to see, sooner or latter, is a political web site that *listens* and invites the voter to engage in conversations as an active partner. This is the key difference: Legacy media can only communicate with voters as passive targets. New Media, by their very interactive nature, can engage the voters as active partners. Ask yourself, how do the legacy media listen when the targets cannot talk back? Have you ever talked back to a TV ad and gotten an answer? Or called a pollster back a day or two latter with a better idea? Or reconvened a focus group to discuss what other focus groups are saying? Of course not. Would you like to?
The first political organization to grasp the fundamental changes in the very nature of political conversation enabled by the New Media will reap a sweet harvest. My hunch is that the commercial market place will figure this out first. They need to sell all day every day, not just once every few years or so. The commercial market place has already begun to understand relationship marketing, mass customization, "customer intimacy" and soon I expect them to understand "conversational marketing". The question is what happens when consumers who have become accustomed to being treated as valued partners are then asked to vote for a politician who treats them as old style passive targets? Will this candidate be competitive with a candidate who knows how to practice conversational politics?
In the end, in 1992 we discovered that New Media has the power to enable a completely new political discourse. In 1996 we remember that 36 years ago JFK was the first to understand the power of televisual political leadership. His practical application of this understanding changed the American political process. Now, like Godot, we are waiting again: waiting for the first politician to put into practice the power of the new media. I expect she, or he, will also once more change the American political process. But I am not holding my breath.
I should also add that I would have expected to see by now the use of the web for pure retail politics - organization in the local neighborhood. New Media offer many advantages over telephone trees, faxes and the other tried and true retail political organization tools. This will be the first opportunity to see the ground effects of New Media. Mark Bonchek and I wrote a long essay on this back in January of this year.