The coming of age of the Millennial Generation, the first civic generation since the GI Generation (dubbed the Greatest by Tom Brokaw), is converging with the arrival of the most civic-friendly communication technologies we have ever seen. And with this convergence, American politics is being reshaped. That was the message delivered yesterday by Morley Winograd and Michael Hais at the Internet Advocacy Roundtable. The authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics provided some serious grist for the mill to the audience gathered at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Building on a rich body of research about political realignment in America, Hais and Winograd explained that a key driving force in realigning the political landscape is the arrival of new communications technology, and the coming of age of a new generation that embraces the technology and demands its incorporation into the political process. The rise of radio in the 1930′s and television in the 1960′s both reshaped politics in this country. And today, the rise of online social media is doing it once again.
While those past innovations surely transformed politics in their days, what is unique about the new media is that it is not just broadcast, or one to many, in how it communicates. It is not even just interactive, allowing the polity to connect with campaigns and organizations in a back and forth dialogue. But it also enables people to communicate with each other as they engage in the political process.
The days of pandering to isolated audiences are over.
The new political dynamic created by social media and a civic-minded generation is creating an enormous push towards transparency. Not just towards articulated transparency, but towards manifested transparency. In fact, given the record levels of attention by the people towards politics (as reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project), the tools that allow anyone to break through privacy barriers (as evidenced by hackers cracking Governor Sarah Palin’s personsal email), and efforts by non-profit groups like the Sunlight Foundation to pull back the curtains on the engines of government, real transparency is inevitable because there are fewer places to hide.
I have long advocated that the rise of the internet, along with Google and smart mobile phones, is creating an envirnoment where those who try to hide behind veils in politics will be exposed and suffer for it. In the age of social media, authenticity trumps scripting every time. Politicians who always speak from the heart will always get more forgiveness when they gaffe than those who try to present a scripted facade.
And the Millennial Generation, 95 million strong, are eating this new world up. Nurtured by their parents as kids, embracing a cooperative view of the world as adults, they are using these new communications tools to force a transformation of politics. Read all about it in Winograd and Hais’s book, and then open your browser and gaze into the future.