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Sunday, September 24, 2023


GET TECHNICAL: Science shapes election process

This election season has been long, I know, but it’s over now. Finally. Let’s take a look back, and see just how this first Internet election went down.

From the very start, among the immigration and abortion issues, there was a tiny little thing called net neutrality that hardly got any attention. Eventually brought up by former Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), this topic still has little play in the American mind, and that’s a shame.

One of the basic tenets of the Internet since its inception has been openness and transparency. With the removal of net neutrality, some Web sites would be able to pay to have their services and content pushed through faster, while other Web sites’ bandwidths would be dropped for lack of payment.

I’m all for the free market, but there are some times that it’s not the best model.

In November 2007 the issue was raised again, this time on the Google Campus in Mountain View, Calif. by one Democratic presidential hopeful named Sen. Barack Obama. In his address to the Googlers, the senator outlined a plan for the democratization of data, and there was much rejoicing.

Then the CNN/YouTube Debates galvanized the full force of the Web. Individuals with Web cameras could post their short videos to YouTube, and a selection of the videos would be shown and debated over by the candidates. The CNN broadcast of the debates was actually simulcast on YouTube, making this a wholly new animal in media coverage.

These two years saw the utilization of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, each candidate had some form of a Web site or another (in 2004, there were some third-party candidates who did not simply by dint of not having the money). Most of the long-running candidates had their own social networks built into their Web sites.

Mass text messaging was used as a new tactic to remind voters and supporters to get out the vote, or to quell rumors. E-mail blasts showed up daily in inboxes worldwide. Web site updates were available on computers, mobile phones and even game consoles. Anything with a network connection was alive with the pulse of the 2008 election.

And let’s not forget the mass media. Without reliance on the wire, their own field reporters could update live from the field on a handful of media at a time, all without any sort of major expense – just a laptop and a camera. What once took small armies of technicians and producers can now be done with a simple piece of plastic, silicon and metal by one person trained in telling some code what to do.

But has all of this connectivity really helped us? To be sure, we are some of the best-informed voters this nation has ever seen, but have we become overfed with random facts and trivia? Our steady diet of factoids is impairing our ability to piece everything together and make sense of our world, so no matter how well-informed we are, we may still not be able to make a good decision based on facts and issues.

Having speedy communication and huge repositories of information at our fingertips has been a human wish for centuries, but now it’s here, what will we do with it?

Let’s hope our new president has some idea of the challenges to come in his term, and has a way of tackling them without destroying the underlying benefits of the technologies in question in the process.

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