Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Twitter and YouTube rock the vote as Obama woos the Internet Generation

America elected some new guy president on Tuesday and the Internet seems to be very excited about it.

People are excited for a lot of important historical reasons, but I’m not going to talk about any of those.

I’m here to talk about the toys.

Every election it’s the same thing. Every election since 1992 has been touted as the first real “Internet” election, the first true “digital” election. Every election year is the “Year of the Internet” or the “Year of the Blogger” or the “First Election of the Digital Age.” And every year some candidate is supposed to be the “Internet candidate.”

The names of Howard Dean, Al Gore and Ron Paul come to mind. All of these guys were media-anointed “Internet candidates” and they all lost.

Al Gore had a special love for the Internet, but was not tech-savvy enough to rig the voting machines in 2000.

Like most Internet geeks he was great with computers but hopeless with paper.

Obama gained some Internet cred by text-messaging his choice for VP directly to supporters, and then spamming their cell phones with robot calls and promotional texts.

Two of the main factors in this election didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Most of you probably know what YouTube is, but even young people in our newsroom didn’t recognize the word Twitter.

Twitter is the Next Big Thing – the latest Internet fad to be hyped mercilessly, catapulted to financial success and eventually ruined by ads.

Last year it was Facebook, a technology that is rapidly losing steam now that they’ve abused privacy, engaged in questionable advertising practices and shamelessly let old people in.

Facebook became popular, not because of who it let in, but because of who it kept out; and once they abandoned that strategy, they basically sealed their fate. A secret club that lets your parents spy on your love life is no longer a secret club.

Facebook is still popular, of course, but the Facebook buzz has now shifted to Twitter, a social networking service that lets you post 140-character updates about your life simultaneously to the web and to the cell phones of your friends.

The 140-character limit is a perfect fit for Internet-era attention spans. It takes me 200 words just to type “hello” in the morning but even I sound interesting if you limit me to 140 characters.

Twitter is home to pundits, celebrities, fictional characters, celebrity impersonators and thousands and thousands of ordinary people from around the world.

It provides intimate communication for friends and families, crass promotion for salesmen and micro-bloggers and emotional validation for lonely people who think they’re funny.

I started an account back in June and am now using it regularly for all three of these purposes.

I don’t have many friends on Twitter yet, but I’m following a lot of celebrities who are too cool to follow me back. I even followed Wil Wheaton for a while, although I can’t quite remember why.

I think everybody has to follow Wil Wheaton for a while. He’s the Internet equivalent of “Frampton Comes Alive.”

2008 really was the Year of Twitter. I won’t go so far as to say Twitter got Obama elected, but it gave Obama supporters a place to celebrate, in real time, as young people flocked to the polls in record numbers.

Thousands of people sent Twitter messages (called “tweets”) from the voting booth. Some of them even took pictures. Twitter turned the sacred, private act of voting into a public act of solidarity.

McCain supporters were tragically out-numbered in the Twitter feeds as the Internet Generation flexed its political muscle for the first time.

This wasn’t the first time the Internet has anointed a candidate, but I’d say this is the first time they picked a winner.

The Internet buzz was so fierce, it created a sense of inevitability around Obama’s victory. McCain supporters were subjected to ruthless peer pressure. One correspondent on Facebook said anyone voting for McCain should unfriend them and disappear.

Make no mistake, Obama’s election was not a dry political calculation for these folks. This election was an intensely personal thing, a moral choice, tinged with desperation for a demographic that felt utterly alienated and oppressed by George Bush.

Blogs played an important role in this election, but blogs have matured now. In ’96 they were a novelty, in 2000 they were grudgingly accepted, in 2004 they were embraced, and now, in 2008, they are simply another kind of media.

Blogs have gone professional now. Big-name blogs are treated like magazines, while smaller ones feed off them and form a kind of echo chamber.

I was offended by the dismissal of blogs in 1996 and annoyed by the hype in 2000. Things have settled down now, now that politicians have learned which blogs they should take seriously and which ones they can afford to snub

The next milestone will be the first election where bloggers actually carry more weight than traditional media. I think that day will come like a thief in the night. No one will expect it, and once it happens, a lot of people will want to turn the clock back.

Twitter and YouTube are cool, but the 2008 technology prize goes to CNN for attempting to use 3-dimensional holograms live in their studio. You read that correctly. CNN tried to showcase 3-dimensional holograms in a 2-dimensional medium. I’ll give them an “A” for effort but next time they should just hire the South Park guys.

I tuned in, like most people, because I wanted to see the experiment fail. It didn’t fail, exactly, but the end result was creepy and underwhelming. CNN missed a golden opportunity.

If they’d executed this with just a twinge of humor, I would have loved them forever and permanently blocked MSNBC. I would have gladly sacrificed my tax refund to see a British guy in an Imperial Navy uniform march up to Wolf Blitzer and say, “Lou Dobbs demands that you make contact with him.”

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 5, 2008 at 10:59

Posted in Politics

2 Responses

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  1. Howard Dean didn’t lose, he merely ascended to a higher plane as our Party Chairman. 🙂

    Obama’s victories in the primary and general elections are at least partly due to embracing the 50-state strategy of Howard Dean, and from running one of the most internet-savvy campaigns in history.

    Lubbock Left

    November 5, 2008 at 11:56

  2. that hologram was so weird. also she’s either extremely short or they need to adjust the aspect ratio of their hologram generator. 😉


    November 5, 2008 at 12:44

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