How The Internet Has Changed The Way We Think About Politics

I found myself at lunch with a co-worker engaging in a heated debate (read: reality flame war) about the current state of politics and government. As usual, nobody won (except for me) and we all went about our geeky ways, thankfully without any bloodshed. A point was raised that made me think (even more so than the thinking I do all day). The other guy was saying that the corporations run the government, that we, as voters, don't really have power, and various other silly things like the CIA killed JFK and that the government knew about 9/11 and let it happen. He was right about one thing. As voters, we have close to no influence on national politics. At first, this bothered me. Then it didn't. And now I'll tell you why.

The Internet changed the way we see ourselves relative to the world. It brought the world closer to us. Anything we ever wanted to know, Wikipedia knew it. Any news story was on the Interwebs within minutes, and had 100 comments in just a few minutes more. Since the important national and global issues became so easily accessible and immediate, we only cared about those stories because the local stuff seemed banal compared to presidential scandals and health care reform.

The problem started when we drew a logical connection between our ability to voice our opinion and our ability to control the vast quantities of information we were fed. If we could know all this information so easily, it must also be easy to control all that. Knowing this, the news media highlighted story after story of individual Interwebs users changing the face of government. Tools like Facebook and Twitter became key buzzwords in the news for their ability to empower the anonymous individual.

Once the power of the individual became an entitlement, we started treating our system like a true democracy, instead of the representative republic that it really is. We assumed that since we could post our status on Facebook and people would listen, that our congressmen would do the same. We assumed that since we now had a voice that our government really wanted to listen.

So, it becomes a shock when we find out that the big businesses and bigger pocketbooks actually run the country, not the people. All of a sudden, the corporation is seen as a usurper of our right to change and our right to influence the powers that be. That makes them evil.

People don't realize that it's always been this way, and it always will be this way. Greed and power will always be the main element of politics, and philanthropy will almost always be a power tool. When faced with listening to the people and protecting a revenue stream/job security, the voter almost always loses. Politics never rewards altruism and dedication to country, because that doesn't pay the bills. What you see in the media is not what really goes on behind the scenes, and the big players are always more important than the small fries.

But it isn't all cynicism and gloom. There's a whole level of politics and policy that the average Joe has power over and shouldn't in any way ignore.
The media has portrayed the national political scene as a somehow accessible environment that a little hope and a little spunk can change. And that's when we started ignoring our local governments.

Local government is where the real battles are fought. Local governments are made up of community leaders who understand that for a city council vote, every vote does count. Every person that they do good by will tell other people about it, and get votes. City officials live in the city and therefore care about your community as much as you do. Yes, money and greed are still the impetus, but here it's on a level that the layperson can get into and affect. In the hullabaloo over health care, my personal state government passed two laws directly affecting taxes. Why was this ignored? If anything, I should have wanted to know about that more than healthcare news because I could have tried to affect the state legislature. I could have talked to my district's representative and he may have actually listened. I could have gotten involved on a personal level and I would have been much more satisfied than engaging in flame wars about the government's knowledge of 9/11.

If you really care about politics outside of the desire to argue with people, then you absolutely can. Join some society's, lead some community projects, meet people, talk to people, and make yourself known in the local scene. Write some editorials, attend city council meetings, and before you know it, you'll be "in politics".

Unfortunately, the Internet has eroded our sense of local community. We all live in a country, but we also live in our community, and the local community has issues that directly affect the way you live that you actually have control over.

So I humbly ask the denizens of the Interwebs: If you all really do know everything (which you allegedly do), then stop wasting your breath on the forum trolls. No matter how vehemently you oppose gay marriage, and no matter how big you can make your words defending that stance, you will not change anything. If you think your opinions should matter to somebody, and to legislative policy, get off my Interwebs. We don't do stuff like that here.

Finishing with my original point, people have to stop thinking that our federal government cares what you think. Let’s get this straight: you are one in a few hundred million. They don’t care about you. Getting all upset at government putting businesses over individuals is futile, because it’s a fact you’re going to have to deal with. On behalf of the Interwebs, I apologize for making you think you matter. You don’t, and your Twitter followers won’t change that. In order to regain our individual importance, we need to get back in to local politics, and make a scene. If we do that, I think we can change the face of national politics, slowly but surely. And to bring this to a technology standpoint, local politics needs some serious Interwebs help. If you can run a decent viral marketing campaign, you can win a local election. I don’t think local campaigns have leveraged the power of digital communities yet, and now would be a great time to take advantage of that.

I know this wasn’t a tech post really, but thank you for sticking with me. I needed to get it off my chest. And I have no friends.

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