Reading Review: Delany and Rosenblatt

Colin Delany’s “Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Digital Political Advocacy” was informative–not in the sense it told me anything new or amazing, but in the sense it reconfirmed, in strong, well-researched language, things that I (and many people of my generation) probably already know about how politics works online. I already know that Facebook and Twitter rule the social media plain; that hypermediate social media is “pinching off” the authority that journalists once had and making everyone with a keyboard a “journalist”; that it seems the next step in advertising science is figuring out how to incorporate ads into videos and websites. I’m all too familiar with viral campaigns (so much so that I inherently resist them) and know that the key to attracting supporters is good website heuristics and to keeping them is tact and appeasement. Be funny, stay relevant, expect the unexpected, do more than ask for money–all good if not intuitive advice.

One dilemma not explicitly stated by Delany, but inferred by his analysis, sticks with me, though. I took from his book most of all that Generation Y, in having so many ways to communicate, can’t seem to figure out which way works best.

Email is not quite as outdated and lame as Delany suggests–Gmail is the new cool email provider (though the fact it is the only cool email provider perhaps proves his point)–but the early-millennial monopoly email enjoyed on communication is gone. Text messaging, as Delany points out, has its flaws–brevity of communication chief among them–and these flaws are obvious when campaigns try to throw texting into the mix. Delany suggests that instant messaging or chatting is the solution, especially if it occurs through a popular social site like Facebook. But I don’t know if this is the case. Speaking as a frequent user of Facebook who is friends with many other frequent users, I feel very few people are crazy about instant messaging. Something Delany doesn’t seem to see is the seeming reversal or coming-full-circleness of digital communication by young people. I think a lot of us have moments we’d prefer to send a Gmail message than log onto Facebook to chat up a person we hope is online.

Generation Y combines instant messaging/chatting and text messaging and traditional email into a web of communication that crosses platforms–and we don’t even notice the platforms. The result is that Generation Y has the attention span of a gnat and is not loyal to any one communication platform. This sort of untamed back-and-forth between communication platforms is what Alan Rosenblatt refers to as “three-dimensional” campaigning or strategizing. If Generation Y ushered in an era of not being able to commit to any one form of media, politics may be the thing to benefit most.

While every form of communication that Delany talks about is two-dimensional–email, text messaging, instant messaging/chatting–these media become three-dimensional when the sender and receiver of a message talk to other senders and other receivers and are also part of an audience that talks to whatever entity the audience is built around, e.g., a political figure that would otherwise be issuing one-dimensional broadcasts. The fact the public now tends not to commit to any one communication platform has made 3D campaigning harder than ever: the same message has to be displayed a hundred different ways to accommodate channel preferences. This is where Delany and Rosenblatt perfectly overlap.

Stagnant dot-coms and rinky-dink email listservs are nowhere near enough anymore. Voters expect technological savvy and scrutinize when they don’t see it. Between bit.ly Tweets and Facebook fan pages and Tumblr blogs and Flickr photos, the establishment is almost always lagging behind the very newest fad. Democracy is afoot–power displaced from the broadcasters to the broadcastees.

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