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Tech Talk: On Technology and Politics

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techtalkFrom hanging chads to blogger campaigns, technology has become a central part of the political process. In an age when the majority of Americans have access to 24-hour news channels and the internet, how is technology changing the way we experience politics?

One of the most spectacular political blunders in recent memory is the fall of Howard Dean. His meteoric rise to the top of the political pyramid came in large part due to a grassroots campaign that utilized the typically conservative method of blogging. And then–in what can only be described as a media frenzy–he fell out of grace. True, Dean had already come in a disappointing third in the Iowa Caucuses, but I kid you not when I tell you that I saw that damn “Dean scream” thirty times in the span of two days. It was inescapable. Channels like CNN and MSNBC kept looping it and in the end, they buried the good doctor.

In her recent HBO Documentary, Diary of a Political Tourist, Alexandra Pelosi (Senate Minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s daughter) caught CNN anchor Candy Crowley on camera after the Dean debacle. In a rare reflective moment, Crowley expressed her mixed feelings about being part of the media machine that makes events like Dean’s demise possible. It’s not that image was not important before 24-hour news. It’s just that everything now is so much faster and more decisive. In a world in which every political jot and tidbit can be run on an endless 24-hour loop, politics has become a scripted game in which iconoclastic players like Howard Dean are increasingly rare.

The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal was a technologically determined event that would have been impossible two years ago. The cameras used to capture the infamous pictures were digital. It has only been the last two years since digital imaging technology of reasonable quality has been made available to the general consumer. Since these images were digital they were instantly transmitted throughout the globe over the internet. ûIn the prisoner abuse scandal, the power of this technology was used by the U.S. media to challenge the Bush administration on their policies.

This was particularly refreshing after the abysmal performance of the U.S. media in covering the Iraq war itself. However, the digital world cuts both ways. The grisly beheading videos that continue to come out of Iraq will also live forever on people’s hard drives, despite the protests of victims’ families. ûBoth the prisoner abuse scandal and the beheading videos had a strong impact on the way we experienced and continue to experience the war in Iraq.

By the time you read this article, you will probably already know who the next president of the United States is. You may be looking back at the above digitally-mediated events as the beginning of the end for George W. Bush. On the other hand, you may be looking down the barrel of four more years of a Commander in Chief who can’t pronounce the word that represents what he considers to be the gravest threat to our national security. Maybe some news channel will loop that for 24 hours! However, as unlikely as that may seem, we are living in a brave new world.

Illustration by Russ Gottwaldt

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