Loyal readers know of my generally bullish, optimistic outlook regarding the Internet’s impact on society, economy, and even politics. On that last front, columnist Peggy Noonan has a nice piece in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Internet Helps Us Get Serious.” Serious about politics and political rhetoric, she means. Speaking about how politicians are addressing the current fiscal crisis in the U.S., Noonan argues:
One way to change minds about the current crisis is through information. We all know this, and we all know about the marvelous changes in technology that allow for the spreading of messages that are not necessarily popular with gatekeepers and establishments. But there’s something new happening in the realm of political communication that must be noted. Speeches are back. They have been rescued and restored as a political force by the Internet.
She then makes the point that I always stress when debating Net pessimists: You have to measure progress against the yardstick of the past and ask yourself if we really better off in a world of information scarcity. Noonan does that beautifully when she notes:
In the past quarter-century or so, the speech as a vehicle of sustained political argument was killed by television and radio. Rhetoric was reduced to the TV producer’s 10-second soundbite, the correspondent’s eight-second insert. The makers of speeches (even the ones capable of sustained argument) saw what was happening and promptly gave up. Why give your brain and soul to a serious, substantive statement when it will all be reduced to a snip of sound? They turned their speeches into soundbite after soundbite, applause line after applause line, and a great political tradition was traduced.
But the Internet is changing all that. It is restoring rhetoric as a force. When Gov. Mitch Daniels made his big speech—a serious, substantive one—two weeks ago, Drudge had the transcript and video up in a few hours. Gov. Chris Christie’s big speech was quickly on the net in its entirety. All the CPAC speeches were up. TED conference speeches are all over the net, as are people making speeches at town-hall meetings. I get links to full speeches every day in my inbox and you probably do too.
And Noonan debunks the argument skeptics like Cass Sunstein and others have made about the atomization of the audience or fracturing of the public’s attention:
People in politics think it’s all Facebook and Twitter now, but it’s not. Not everything is fractured and in pieces, some things are becoming more whole. People hunger for serious, fleshed-out ideas about what is happening in our country. …
A funny thing about politicians is that they’re all obsessed with “messaging” and “breaking through” and “getting people to listen.” They’re convinced that some special kind of cleverness is needed, that some magical communications formula exists and can be harnessed if only discovered. They should settle down, survey the technological field and get serious. They should give pertinent, truthful, sophisticated and sober-minded speeches. Everyone will listen. They’ll be all over the interwebs.