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Political social networking

Obama's camp ... understood that humans are -- and have always been -- social creatures, and that social media are nothing more than a powerful accelerant to human interaction. To suggest that they are new is akin to suggesting that chewing our food is a modern concept or that the love of warmth is a fad activated by the discovery of fire. Social media are the continuation of our species' drive to connect, communicate and collaborate. Obama embraced this reality and, with it, propelled a network of mobilized, purposeful advocates the likes of which no marketing effort has ever seen. David Krejci, "Message received," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11-5-08

Krejci's opines that Obama's use of social networking sites played a decisive part in his victory. (Excuse me for a second... HE WON! YIPPEEEEEE! Thanks. I needed to do that - again.) Obama's Facebook page has 900,000 members and Facebook was one of over 16 sites he used to both inform, motivate, and, yes, raise funds.

I've long been concerned that prohibiting the use of the Internet in schools in any form will politically disenfranchise students who may not have ready access outside of school. (See 1998's "Citizenship and Technology" column.)

Might one of the victories of this election be that social networking sites will be seen by more educators as educational and civics tools, not just for recreation? I hope so.

Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and author of the McArthur report Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, writes:

We are using participation as a term that cuts across educational practices, creative processes, community life, and democratic citizenship. Our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture...

What a person can accomplish with an outdated machine in a public library with mandatory filtering software and no opportunity for storage or transmission pales in comparison to what person can accomplish with a home computer with unfettered Internet access, high bandwidth, and continuous connectivity… The school system’s inability to close this participation gap has negative consequences for everyone involved.

For our kids, civic engagement equal social engagement.

My 1998 column concluded:

Jonathan Kozol in his book Savage Inequalities reminds us that there are two kinds of schools in this country: those training the future governors and those creating the future governed. Well-used technology can go a long way to help assure all citizens have the ability to participate in governing their own lives. And it won’t be long before technology is not just helpful in allowing this participation, but essential.

It really wasn't all that long.

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Reader Comments (3)

As a facebook user (and happy Obama supporter) it was amazing to see the use of such a tool in a political campaign. While our youth may not be inclined to pick up the newspaper or turn on CNN (or other political programming), facebook, myspace and other network sites have certainly attracted the interest of future voters. With a simple click, I was able to use my facebook account to keep up to date on the Obama campaign and receive information on his political views. Why not let our youth do the same?

I hope that the use of social networking will increase political awareness - that being said, i hope that the tools do not turn into another way to annoy potential voters. If I received one more phone call encouraging me to vote for some candidate, I thought I would lose my mind (the 4th arrived just in time).

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey Smith

Like many non-Americans worldwide, I embraced the recent election and I see Obama as the most future-oriented player in global politics for years. I believe that technology and it's "acceleration of human interaction" was the primary catalyst in transforming US politics and world culture and bringing Obama to power. And so I need to reasses my stand on how much to invest in this phenomenon as an individual who has always been somewhat socially introverted and a teacher-librarian with responsibility to help prepare students for a post-Bush world.

I struggle to find the balance between nurturing in my students traditional, face-to-face forms of social interaction (and the personal growth that comes out of this) and promoting global connectedness. In "our" world (that is, the world of the billion or so of us that are "wired") of instant everything, including gratification of consumer urges, it seems we still haven't come to terms with the environment, learned to value the diversity of human culture, or to truly cherish the gift of "humanness" that is supposed to separate us from the animals. Witness our almost business as usual approach to global warming, the Darfour crisis, or the Iran/Afghanistan quagmire. Is and "acceleration of interactedness" helping here?

I continue to wonder whether we are over-investing in "global" outreach thinking when we should be reaching out to the person at our elbow. The vast majority of the world's people are still walking in a water-buffalo's plough-furrow (albeit with a cellphone tucked in their sarong/longyi/gi), but we're too busy to make a direct f2f connection because we're so busy SMSing, Skyping, podcasting or Ninging our way onto our flavor of the week social network.

But then something like this election comes along and slaps me out of my complacent dismissiveness. If the social networking phenomenon can play such a key part in this hugely positive event, it has to be worth investing heavily in.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob Rubis

Hi Lindsay,

There is indeed a fine line between awareness and annoyance. We've stopped picking up any calls of numbers we don't recognize. And we are on about every do-not-call list there is!


Hi Rob,

I think you and I are of a generation and share many of the same concerns. My own observations lead me to conclude that today’s kids don’t communicate electronically or face-to-face, but electronically AND face-to-face.

You concern about neglecting the person at our elbow as we reach to interact globally reminds me of the old “Easy to Be Hard” lyrics from Hair:

And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?

Rob, you are as eloquent and thoughtful as ever. Thank you for the comment.


November 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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