The 2012 Presidential election is heating up a little more every day. The Republican hopefuls are getting headlines on all the major news sites. Herman Cain is creeping us out with his hilarious smile. And the internet is a-buzz with election activity, with more voices a-voicing than ever before. And that’s the thing: how are the millions of Americans who are discovering web 2.0 going to effect the election this season? My prediction: clusterfuck.

We saw it in 2008 with John McCain’s White House run. He was in a tough spot from the start, trying to appeal to a conservative base while attempting to attract the moderate crowd. What happened? A quick visit to YouTube allowed voters to see his mixed messages side-by-side. In the past, it would have taken a professional broadcaster to put targeted messages meant for different states in the same video. But now, everything you do or say in your campaign can be compiled in place. The result in 2008? Obama appeared consistent while McCain appeared fractured.

But the game is different in 2012. Obama’s 2008 message won’t work this time around, and he has pack of hungry, hopeful candidates running against him. I assume (based on nothing more than faith in humans) that presidential campaign teams understand the rules of the new interconnected landscape. Candidates need to be careful what they say. Their messages need to fit their branding, and they need to say things properly all the time for fear of being ripped apart on the web.

A soundbite is a powerful thing, as now congressional candidate Joe The Plumber knows. Joe, whose real name is Sam Wurzlebacher, was made famous in 2008 when then Senator Obama told him “I think a more equitable distribution of the wealth works out better for everyone” on the campaign trail. The response was a fire storm from conservatives who jumped on Obama’s comment as proof of his “socialist” agenda. McCain even sponsored a campaign ad about regular Americans being Joe the Plumber. It didn’t work, and Obama was elected. But now it looks like Mr. Wurzlebacher is the one who is benefitting the most from his chance encounter with fate. Looks like a more equitable distribution of the soudbites works out beter for everybody.

So why will it be a cluster? Because humans make mistakes. They make even more mistakes under pressure. And when they make those mistakes on the high-pressure campaign trail, the bloggers are armed and ready to take a quick soundbite and send it out into cyberspace for all to see. This season, more people than ever are online, wanting their voices to be heard. The candidates have already given them plenty of material and the election hasn’t really even started yet. If there’s more like Herman Cain’s creepy ad coming, I’m excited.


1. How is citizen journalism exposing a broader range of issues, stories or topics when compared to traditional professional journalism?

2. Is citizen journalism more, less or equally as effective in informing our society of happenings?

3. What politicians or political movements have used “subliminal” branding, such as web design, successfully (winning elections, passing legislation)?

“Why can’t I see my feed the right way anymore? How is Facebook gonna tell me what I like?” says a Facebook friend in response to the most recent overhaul. I can’t help but feel bad for him. Not only does he not understand the ways Facebook keeps track of what you click on, like and share, but when he finds out he may be upset enough quit using Facebook. His post has a few likes and comments from people who might be equally freaked out.

But he is one of the clean ones. His posts are “Facebook Kosher,” meaning they are not dirty or radically opinionated. I, on the other hand, like to flirt with the line. As Clay Shirkey predicts in his book “Here Comes Everybody,” we trade our true opinions for the right to participate in social contexts. I certainly censor my posts, both for fear of professional repercussions and because I have little cousins who can see my musings. Admittedly, I’ve blocked the youngn’s from a few outbursts while watching the Buffalo Bills royally screw up plays late in the 4th quarter. But I wish I didn’t have to (both block people and be a Bills fan).

Comedians use Twitter better than anyone: they’re the best at delivering 1-liners. They can also say what they want because they can play the comedy card if things get sticky. Comedy allows one to safely divulge radical opinions. The rest of us have to play the game that Shirkey predicted, and Twitter is no different than Facebook in this sense. We get 140 characters to make people think we are who we want them to think we are. Comedians get to be themselves. This is why I’m a comedian at heart: I value being real and dislike people who are intentionally fake. All of the people I love most, including my wife, are intensely real.

The judgement of the crowd is a real thing. You feel it most in social media. You may feel more comfortable saying things from your laptop, but you’re still standing on a table and shouting your opinions out for all to hear. Crowd-moderating is good and bad; it simultaneously keeps harmful and helpful opinions at bay. For example, racism is bad and it’s a good thing that it’s kept off of my news feed. But people may also feel shy about sharing negative opinions on our commodity-driven lifestyle, which is a guaranteed one-way ticket to collapse, for fear fo being labeled as a radical hippie. I guess that makes me a radical hippie. But self-censorship may be a good thing for us because most people don’t know that the internet is Big Brother’s newest tool. And we feed it voluntarily.

This morning we Skyped with Eva Galperin, a highly knowledgable activist with EFF in San Francisco. She told us a thing or two about internet privacy. In a nutshell, you are the product, not the consumer, of social media and everything you do online is available to the government. Shocked? That’s good, because it’s important to understand the amount of privacy we’ve sacrificed to participate in social media. Now Facebook and Twitter are far more interested in selling custom-tailored ad space built around your actions, but your information is available to the CIA if they want it.

The moral? Maybe self-censorship will turn out to be good for those who do it and bad for those who are honest. Backwards, isn’t it? Be fake, or be real and thank activists like Eva Galperin for looking out for your freedoms.

As far as I can tell, I’m not a gadget. I’ve manipulated/censored myself to participate in social media (somewhat), but I feel more connected to my favorite humans than ever before in my life. I still get my best new band suggestions from people, best website recommendations and best concert reminders. I feel like social media helps me stay connected. But maybe this is all because I remember a time before the digital revolution.

“In 1997 my family got it’s first real desktop computer. I was 13 or 14. That means I had 13 or 14 years of pre-digital experience in the world of old,” says me to my grandkids in 2040. “But all of you are two generations into this.” And the kids will all laugh at how weird and old 20th-century-grandpa is. And maybe grandpa will feel really really weird around those little gadgets, with their iSynapse digitally optimized minds and wifi telepathy. Organic grandpa will be trying to make a webpage in HTML17 while they play games that are downloaded into their brains, seeming as crazy as the first users of hands-free bluetooth devices.

But enough silly speculation. Lanier is a smart guy, and he’s made a lot of very good points in his manifesto. People run the risk of turning into gadgets when they don’t raise a critics eyebrow to the trends in our world. I like a lot of the things about our digital world. I like the free information, the instant gratification. I like being connected to my friends on Facebook. I like posting content on their walls that they would enjoy. To me, Social networks are an extension of myself, but they are not me. But what about the kids?

PESSIMISM: I can’t imagine Facebook in high school. High school, as it was at the turn of the millennia, was plenty to deal with. Add Facebook, and peer pressure explodes, pulling in a larger number of impressionable youth that might have made it out ok otherwise (by ok, I mean people who follow their own interests instead of bending to fit in). And this is a shame. The strong survive, but the weak get pulled along with the ever-dimming crowd in greater numbers.

High school years can make a big impression on who people become in the future. This wasn’t the case for me (thank f***ing God), but a quick scan of my Facebook friends reveals that some were not so lucky. But Facebook exists for everyone today, from tweens to adults. What happens to people when they begin bending to the digital mold at younger and younger ages? Will larger numbers of people grow into a digital mold, an anonymous avatar of a persona?

OPTIMISM: In response to these Lanier-esque fears, I postulate that this stuff is Darwinian. The strong will survive, as they always do. They’ll emerge from a digitalized and ultra peer pressured youth alright. They’ll use the free information to their advantage. They’ll excel at a faster rate than others. And the weak will be at the mercy of the crowd, as they have been for 4.5 billion years.

I choose optimism because I’m human and therefore hard-wired for it. But also because I have faith in humanity. I don’t like what the digital age has done to musicians, but I love what it has done for music. I like being able to see my favorite artist at a small venue. I like being able to shake their hands after the show. I like the fact that the best bands are not as well-known as they might have been 15 years ago, but that doesn’t keep them from existing.

The digital era puts passion first, where it belongs. I hope that all of this will work itself out.

Clay Shirkey got us thinking about amaturization. I still have a few questions about the subject, mostly relating to the industries that are being directly effected by mass amaturization. What’s going to happen to the media? Is it going to become irrelevant, or will it adapt and survive? Also, how is amaturization currently effecting the media?

Lanier’s book is interesting, too. I’m only 45 pages in, and it doesn’t seem like it’s about amaturization. It seems like it’s about raising a critical eye to the mass digitalization of our society. He talks about forming humans to fit digital molds. How is it happening? I need more evidence before I jump onboard. Also, what could have been the alternatives to the locked-in methods that dominate?

We all know the world is changing. Shirky wrote Here Comes Everybody to explore one of the largest changes: organizing without organizations. But I get the feeling that this book does more that explain the various changes occurring in society because of technology. This book provides a framework of human nature that allows us to make predictions about the future.

Shirky has described, in detail, the various human motivations behind collaborative effort, rapid information sharing and solving social dilemmas, among other things. But what he doesn’t do is predict the implications of these phenomena. Or at least he hasn’t done so yet. I’d like to discuss some of these issues here.

THE MEDIA. This industry is probably facing more change than others. We’re already seeing groups using blogging and social media to attract mass media attention to issues. In the world of tomorrow will we see increased social influence over the media? At what point will it level out? Will the media more-or-less remain as it is today, or will the changes continue until mass media as we know it is completely different?

POLITICS. With increased group mobility, power in numbers becomes a reality for the political process. Group action, fostered by technology, lead to the passenger bill of rights. What’s next? I think this could be a tremendously good thing for our government. Power could be swayed back towards the masses and away from the special interests. But like all things, humans seem to figure out a way to screw it up. So, in the end, will it actually be a bad thing?

SOCIALIZATION. We know about Facebook and Twitter, but these tools are relatively new. So how will social interaction change over time? I can image a scenario where people find each other in ways that would never have been possible before (online dating, that witches group), thus leading to a happier human society. But I can also image bad ideas spreading like wildfire, leading to groups popping up with negative political agendas, leading to WWIII. So, world peace and war can be brought about by organizing without organization. I’m sure both will at some point, but the reality will probably average out to be a zero-sum game.

COMMERCE. Will group feedback kill the snake oil salesman? The shady corporation? I hope so. Collective action could make this happen.

GLOBAL POLITICS. What about groups forming in other countries? Is it possible for a huge political group in the US to find it’s soul mate in, say, a German group? These groups might have similar views about sustainability, leading to environmental policy changes. Or they can both hate on Greece and cause financial reform. Can an international human consensus be discovered through organizing without organizations?

How will the subject matter discussed by Shirky change our world in out lifetime? If the last decade is any indication, then the answer is “profoundly.” In 20 years, will Shirky’s book be a fundamental read in understanding what happened? Maybe.