The age of mega-participation in micro-doses
What I'd rather do, though, is focus on the effectiveness of Obama's fund-raising, & try & understand why that happened. By all accounts, his campaign has raised a staggering $40-50 million each month for the first few months of 2008. It speaks, of course, to how effectively they tapped into the pocketbooks of the masses ( it's said that the highest individual contribution is $130); but as a keen observer of the transformations that the internet is making to the world & its institutions, I see this as at yet another example of how people will express themselves through whatever means available; here, ordinary people have made contributions of $5 or 10 or 20, & have so transformed & empowered a campaign, & in the process have empowered themselves: that they are able to make a difference, that they have will have a say in bringing about change & making things happen. I am not sure such an overwhelming wave of support would have been possible in the early stages of any elections in the absence of the internet.
And while it is true that the technology has made it easier to participate in this manner very easily, I suspect the forces that drive such participation have more to do with the psyche of people in this era of participation; we have just come to expect as very natural that anyone can write ( or upload pictures or videos) about the World Economic Forum or the events in Myanmar or the China earthquake. We have simply gotten quickly accustomed to seeing ourselves as producers/ creators/ builders as well as consumers.
So, just as we are seeing the micro-contributions of millions & millions of amateurs to the huge proliferation of news & content on the web ( a photo here, a video there, a comment there, a minor edit of wikipedia), I believe we are seeing the same phenomenon at play here in US politics: that the average Joe need not stand by idly feeling helpless while the forces determine how things will play out. The average Joe can quickly make a contribution of some money, any amount works; as they say, 'Mighty oaks from acorns grow', & the Obama success so far is one impressive oak! One look at the Obama website reveals that the visitor is greeted with the 'Make a contribution' page ( not much subtlety there, but it's possible their research has shown that that is the page supporters want to reach first). However, once past this splash screen, the website offers umpteen ways for people to participate: make calls, find Obama supporters near you, organize, plan events, volunteer your time, etc. They also appear to have a strong social network component: get together with groups in your city, for example. But then again, one would need to compare this website with websites of other campaigns: my feeling is content-wise, they will not be all that different. So definitely, campaigns have to be multi-pronged, multi-channel affairs, with the bulk of the connection happening through personal visits by candidates, & with the internet being one very powerful arm to ease some of the organizational challenges.
What's also very interesting to me is how much is read into the messaging & tone of a website (of course, colored by one's leanings & prejudices). After the recent turn of events with Hillary Clinton bowing out of the race, her website today displays a simple form for visitors to fill up to show their support for Hillary. When I first saw it this morning, it did strike me as a bit curious since this seemed to go contrary to the news that she had conceded to Obama. Later in the evening, I was watching CNN & heard that they have received a thousand comments on their blog about the Obama victory today, & the anchor then started to read a few of these comments; one struck me as very telling: a reader had written in about his/ her disgust at the Clinton site still seeking support & in this very in-your-face manner; it reinforced, to this person, the lack of grace & class that Hillary has displayed all through her campaign, & that even when she knew she was down & out, she was still resorting to meaningless tactics such as drumming up support.
This conveys to me how sophisticated we are becoming with the medium of the web: we are not tone-deaf at all when it comes to the web, but are reading so much more into the web fronts of the candidates. It was as if Hillary committed the faux pas of not making eye contact at the right time in a one-on-one conversation.