The Internet medium is the political message

People talk about the "immediacy" of TV. But the Internet is immediacy through a fire hose. You can't stand in front of the Internet, as you would in front of a TV, and get "the story." You have to search for it, and interact with it. This action makes you active.

Tim Berners-Lee, WWW
For years I've been writing that the Internet is replacing TV as the dominant political medium. (Right, Tim Berners-Lee.)

Now it's a story. The Pew Internet & American Life Project says 46% of Americans have used Internet resources to either learn about or participate in the current campaign.

The report by Aaron Smith and Lee Rainie is filled with interesting numbers, but this is one time where numbers don't really tell the story.

It's not just that we're making our contributions online, or learning about candidates online, or even organizing online. It's that slowly, then more rapidly, our political values are being shaped by this medium.

People talk about the "immediacy" of TV. But the Internet is immediacy through a fire hose. You can't stand in front of the Internet, as you would in front of a TV, and get "the story." You have to search for it, and interact with it.

This action makes you active. When you use the Internet you are not passive, you are interacting. You control the horizontal, you control the vertical. You can also be heard.

This is powerful, but it is not power. Political power requires that a myriad of voices be shaped into a direction. Since before the Web was spun the Internet has had a process for that.

It's called consensus. Openness, connectivity, consensus, the values which arise from our use of the Internet, become the values we then take into the political sphere.

Suddenly the values of the TV era -- conflict, simplicity, division, politics as theater -- come to seem quaint, then foolish, then dangerous. This is something increasing numbers of us have been internalizing over the last 14 years, the values our children have grown up with.

Tim Russert
When Tim Russert passed away last week I got mad, indulging in a little Internet temper tantrum.

After writing it, I walked away from my PC and asked myself, why did I speak ill of the dead? What got into me?

I think it had to do with the TV values Russert practiced, and the Internet values I've spent my own career studying. The values of this medium are rising to power, and it will take many years to shake out what this means.

But that process has now well and truly begun. For which I am thankful. My apologies to Mr. Russert's family. It wasn't the messenger I wished to condemn, just the medium.

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