As an amateur historian, I’ve often wondered what a time-traveler from 200 or 300 years ago might say about society today. I think people of past eras believed that in the 21st century human beings would be able to get around with incredible speed — to some degree this has proven true (planes, trains and automobiles) — but really the most astounding technological breakthroughs of this age have little to do with movement at all. Human speed hasn’t changed much, while the speed of ideas has changed considerably. You can send a thought halfway around the globe, and for that matter to points hundreds of miles away from the globe, before you’ve had enough time to walk to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee.
It’s a concept that would utterly shock a person of the distant past, from an age when information and news took days if not weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean, not to mention the world. The idea of a computer that gives you up-to-the-minute, instant news, would no doubt, scare someone of a different era.
It’s no secret that the Obama campaign harnessed the internet to great effect during the campaign, and it remains to be seen how the Obama administration plans to continue doing so. They’ve said that they will have open comment periods for non-emergency legislation, and that they will contact supporters directly on big issues, rather than using the media as a filter (e.g. their VP announcement, although that seems to have leaked prior to the much-hyped text message).
I for one am excited to see what kind of progress the internet brings to our political process. For all the derision bloggers get from the right-wing establishment (just yestereday, Sarah Palin told Greta van Sustern that bloggers are lazy people, sitting in their pajamas in their parents’ basements — I have news for you Sarah Palin, I am in jeans, newly showered, and sitting in my very own living room) the idea of regular person news, coming at your from a variety of sources in real time, is something to continue looking out for. We shall see.
Update: Farhad Manjoo over at Slate discusses this very same topic, and the pros and cons that generally elude my own working knowledge of technology.