These days, people regularly engage in the political scene through “new media” to make their presence felt and influence politicians and the political process. Technology has made it easy for anyone and everyone with an internet connection to indulge in armchair politics – with or without acumen or an understanding of the issues at hand. However, the criticism of this development is that the internet and its related technologies means give people the feeling of being politically active while being inactive in any “real” sense of the word. When you search with the term “technology review” on web, you get so many reviews on technology and you would find people sharing their experiences how technology impacts politics these days.
The issue this train of thought raises is that of political engagement. The problem in most Asian countries is that the populace feels no investment or ownership in the political process. Additionally, it is the same concern that forms the basis of the angst over whether or not the burgeoning political noise and fury online is a positive development. The worry is that the e-literate, English – speaking, urban population may not be too keen to vote in elections, but they can and do criticize the government, politicians and the system in general from the comfort of their computer chairs, basking in the warm glow of their computers and thinking that they have done their bit.
The other side of the discussion points to the fact that technology is making it possible for a few demographics to be brought into the discussion. They now have a means by which they can express themselves and engage in the process. One would benefit by quickly looking at how the new media technologies – both current and earlier generations of technologies related to the internet – have been used in politics in other contexts, with the most obvious and accessible ones.
Similarly, on the operational side, political parties and movements have used the internet and other information technologies very effectively and extensively. In this case, the other information technologies are as important to mention, if not more so. The collection, organization, and analysis of data can be one of the most critical parts of running campaigns.
From demographic data, to organizational records and planning documents, information technology is a great boon in this digital world. All sorts of political and activist organizations have made great use of them. Gone are the days when political leaders went around with a paper notebook, keeping track of contacts in every constituency in the country. The most successful organizations today have the most sophisticated IT infrastructures, from political parties to militant organizations.
This brings one to what is part and parcel of real world politics – fundraising. The Obama campaign in the US has proved that the use of information and communication technologies can be what the Americans call a game changer. If used properly, these technologies can be employed to challenge and overwhelm established political systems and structures. The network of people – that the Obama campaign reached and engaged helped them overcome the institutional advantage that the Hillary Clinton campaign was said to have.
It was not that they were reaching out to every individual and group via the internet, but the internet provided them with a way through which they marshaled the volunteers and resources that were then used to reach out to a much wider circle. This included people who were on the other side of what is often referred to as the digital divide.
That is the missing piece of the puzzle that makes any new tool. For that is what information technologies are, the latest tools available to anyone to use it, effective or useless. Moreover, the extent to which the tool’s strengths and weaknesses are understood by those who wield it and how well they can exploit its strengths to improve their effectiveness and reach are crucial for success.