iPolitics in the iPhone age

The most recent development in my life as a techie is that I was recently in the news as something else than a techie - as a member of the Untied Citizens Group that seeks to start a new and very different kind of political party in the Yukon.

The most recent development in my life as a techie is that I was recently in the news as something else than a techie – as a member of the Untied Citizens Group that seeks to start a new and very different kind of political party in the Yukon.

I mention that fact here primarily to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

I want my readers to know that, whatever the nature or duration of my political involvement turns out to be, I will try to keep its impact on this column to a bare minimum.

The local media are already replete with people grinding political axes; my readers don’t need me to join their ranks.

First, the things I say in this space will never be vetted by the leadership of the United Citizens Group, so they should not be held accountable for any of it.

Second, many activities that I might become engaged in the course of this political project are not likely to have anything to do with technology, so they will go unmentioned here.

On the other hand, when the subject of technology is relevant to local politics, I will not shy away from it, either – as the present column will demonstrate.

I became involved with the United Citizens, in fact, because they asked me to give them some help with their communications technology.

What I did was not exactly radical – setting up a e-mailing list, doctoring up a little web page, setting up a Facebook presence, helping people learn how to use Skype for meetings – but much of it was new to some of the more senior members of the group.

What most sparked my interest in the United Citizens people, though, was that they were open to the idea of communicating with Yukoners in new, more inventive ways – in other words “doing the Obama,” and exploiting the new social media to communicate their message and bring people into the fold

How this will work out remains to be seen: It is a project only now in the offing. But I think it marks a promising beginning in changing the way we do political campaigning, and, with any luck, the way we govern and get governed when the elections are over.

Some of the malaise that besets Yukon politics arises from problems and personalities that are entirely local; but a good portion of it comes from a problem that is present in pretty much all of North America: Too many politicians are doing television-era politics in the age of the iPhone.

The new information age arrived in the Yukon in January of 1995, when the first internet service opened for business in Whitehorse.

I know the date because I was one of the guys opening the business.

That means that the young people attaining voting age today don’t really have any memory of life (other than a few toddler memories) without digital communication.

Their habits of communication – what they say, how they say it, and what they are interested in talking about – are markedly different from the habits we old dinosaurs from the television age have developed.

And those new communication habits have direct bearing on our ongoing political dysfunction – and, perhaps, represent some hope for the future.

We are living through the tail end of broadcast-era politics – radio, television, newspapers – in which communication flows just one way: from the politicians to the people.

For all the attempts to include voters, through constituency meetings and consultation sessions, communication between the governors and the governed has always been a matter of public relations, not conversation.

A concomitant of this absence of conversation is the inflated, overheated, often comically cantankerous rhetoric our politicians so often use in front of the broadcast media, to make sure they catch the public ear.

In a small environment like the Yukon, that overblown and hyper-aggressive rhetoric can quickly come to look way out of scale to the small, local issues. It often looks just plain silly.

It also serves to discourage people from running for public office – or even, what is even more worrisome, from voting at all.

This is not to say that our current crop of politicians are all silly, or mean-spirited

They are, many of them, perfectly good people, trapped in a communications paradigm that does not work in the Yukon, never really has worked anywhere, and is quickly becoming irrelevant to the new voting public

A public raised in a world of chat groups, social networking sites, text messaging and tweets is not going to sit passively by and be socially engineered by ballyhooing, out-of-date spin doctors.

That is where both the challenge and the opportunity lies, for the new political party, when it finds its feet and name, and for the existing parties, as well: We have to do politics differently, and we have to communicate it differently, too.

It has been more than a little distressing to me, over the past weeks, since I “outed” myself politically, how many people have expressed a sense of disgust and hopelessness about political life in the Yukon.

I may suffer from an optimism undeserved at my age, but I still remain hopeful that our present dire political situation can mark a tipping point, where we move from politics by bellowing to politics by conversation

Let the tweeters be heard!

Rick Steele is a technology junkie

who lives in Whitehorse.

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