As I began reading Joe Trippi’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an excerpt stood out to me in Chapter 3.
“A television ad reaches voters passively. You just sit there and the box tells you what to think, or what you want — unlike the Internet, where you open a search engine or eBay or Amazon.com and tell the box what you want… This is the bottom-up, interactive communication. Television has a top-down, one-to-many structure… If it’s done well, some images stick, possibly even some ideas — although in a 30-second spot, there is usually only time for one or two visceral reaction so stick. Children playing: good. Pollution: bad. Old people in church: good. Criminals on street corners: bad. This is one of the reasons political debate in our country has been “dumbed down” — not because media consultants don’t want you to think — but because no serious discussion of issues can possible occur in 30 seconds. “
I was shocked by the disparity Trippi identifies between the two mediums, which I believe are becoming more and more the same. I agree with him that television is a passive communication (for most people without Internet TV yet). You just turn on the TV, browse the channels and wait for the content to come at you. During prime-time hours right now you will get inundated with political ads. Trippi paints the picture of the Internet being interactive, allowing users to dictate what they see. I get his point, but I think that’s becoming less true over time.
On the Internet, I definitely have control over my time and which websites I browse to, but as I check a friend’s blog I see an ad for Dino Rossi in the ad space. I head over to a local tech reviews blog and see an ad against I-1093. My IP address must have triggered the ads. What’s so different between websites and TV channels now?
Let’s look at social media specifically. Here’s a few messages from my Twitter stream when I search “I-1100″ right now, on the eve of elections:
- @Yesto1100: I-1100 is ahead 48-40 in new KING 5 poll. Spread the word to friends, family and colleagues to push I-1100 over the top. Every vote counts.
- @BizDevWRA: Vote for Liquor Reform—Vote Yes on I-1100 by Dominic Holden – News – The Stranger, Seattle’s Only Newspaper http://goo.gl/MoOM
- @ gerrardiana Can’t decide on I-1100: a bad initiative now that I agree with in principle vs. the unlikely hope of decent legislation later?
- @dredpiraterob: RT @1SunRisen: No on I-1100 and I-1105.
- @comeonsrsly: I voted for I-1100. The opposition didn’t convince me.
- @diggzdime: I hope everyone votes yes on I-1100 no more having to make two stops for liquor and chasers…
Honestly, I’m not getting a lot from these or any other messages to inform my vote. Many of the tweets I saw were humorous. Others repeated pro and con rhetoric. Many more simply linked to news sources with articles . I don’t see the proliferation of discussion so much as I see a higher volume of the same messages that I could find on TV. There are some new articles that I could find if I really dig, I’m sure. I gather that the smart organizations work to flood the social streams with their stories. To that point, our #digidem tweets were easy to find due to our retweeting efforts. But was that a good thing, minimizing the average citizen wanting to use the channels to make their voicse heard or search for a greater selection of sources and content?
Whereas at least with Twitter I have the ability to search and the illusion of limitless sources, Facebook is a wash. It has got to be as familiar an environment to TV as I can think of. I “subscribe” to a list of friends (channels) who populate the news stream (broadcast) with their links, thoughts and Likes. On top of that, I get serviced ads in the right sidebar — many of them political ads as of late. There are a lot of Halloween updates today, but they’ve slowly evolved into the evening and tomorrow they’ll be totally political. I don’t get to choose what they broadcast, I just chose to follow them and I’m served their messages. To Trippi’s point, this is definitely the interactive, many-to-many model, but do I get more meaningful messages out of it?
I have limited ability to search on Facebook and I’m limited to searching my connections. I can’t easily find discussions that aren’t hosted by supporter or opposition pages. Those pages just contain the YouTube videos replaying the TV commercials. I’m either finding an echo chamber or no chamber at all.
30-second TV spots or 140-character messages? If this is the promise of the Internet, it’s not Trippi’s promise. We’re not seeing revolution, we’re seeing more “dumbed down” debate and the Internet’s playing reruns of children playing, pollution and old people in church.