Working in his secret laboratory at Harvard University, a Fellow of the prestigious institution has come up with a formula that rocks electoral maths to its core.
Former software developer Dave Winer has worked out that one weblogger is worth ten ordinary voters, and he revealed the results of his complex calculations to Wired this week.
Normally we avoid ten-a-penny Internet cranks. The gaffe-prone former software developer has put his foot in his mouth so many times it probably qualifies for a residential parking permit.
But we did the maths ourselves – and were confounded. His work could indeed have far-reaching social consequences.
For example, if a large, perhaps indolent, family of ten overweight welfare recipients could muster a weblogger between them – then the one weblogger could cast a collective vote on their behalf. An empowering move that could see turn outs increase dramatically amongst the apathetic and disenfranchised: a worrying trend across many Western democracies.
The United States Electoral College requires a plurality of 538 votes, or 270 to cross the finishing line. But if they were all webloggers, the leading candidate would only need to find 27 votes to become the President. And States that had previously been neglected – such as the Dakotas, would see their influence increase dramatically overnight. Right now North Dakota has three electoral votes. But if all three were webloggers, it would power past non-blogging Michigan (18), Florida (25) to come within striking distance of Texas, which has 33 votes.
“This certainly makes car pooling easier,” a field worker with many ‘get out the vote’ campaigns behind him told us. “Instead of arranging three or four cars, we could simply send one weblogger to the polling station”.
As long as they packed him some sandwiches, and a WiFi connection, we hope.
Vote early – vote often
Alas, the weblog tools vendors are about the last group people will trust in this matter, for they don’t seem to wear the simple idea of ‘one man one vote’ very comfortably, or at least, without heavy qualification.
As with many opportunitists before them, they’re unabashed at using their tiny influence to disproportionate advantage, as the now notorious Googlewashing episode illustrates. And being a thin-skinned lobby, when criticized, they pick up some intriguing fellow-travellers, such as professional Google-gamer, spammer and former e-currency salesman Elwyn ‘Discover the Hidden Power of Email’ Jenkins, whose integrity Winer staunchly defended as recently as last month – in comments Winer subsequently removed. And cornered, they advocate some odd ruses, such as the creepy idea of Voting URLs”, to dismiss contradictory, unwholesome and therefore unpure thoughts.
In June, a bunch of blog-lobbyists invaded Parliament, set up a WiFi connection, and haven’t been heard from since.
Now there’s a good case to be made that society is full of such groups, all competing, all eager to carpe diem. There’s an equally good case to be made that democracy depends on a thorough shake down of how these people operate – they throw out clues, as we’ve seen above – and how they define themselves.
But when we parse Winer’s full quote closely, we discover something that can be useful.
Beneath the headline “Clark Campaign to Debut Big Blog” – a democratic daisycutter of weblog, we imagine – Winer is cited, thus:
“A voter with a weblog is ten times more powerful than a voter without a weblog, because there’s more voting than just going in and flipping a lever.”
Too true, Dave, too true – but at the end of the day, it’s the guy who has gotten the most real levers flipped who wins. That’s what matters: the acquisition and exercise of real power. Somehow we can’t escape the wicked thought that what Dave is really trying to say, is that people who use his weblog software are more powerful – because they’re using his weblog software. And that, in a nutshell, is how weblog software vendors measure ‘success’. We can coin a phrase for this: “Emergent Democracy” – which translates to “how many times people use my software”. For this seems to be the only defining characteristic of this particular version of democracy.
This is a characteristic of the giddy kind of people who define themselves through computer-mediated relationships. They get terribly excited about people just like themselves using the same software, when all that bounces back from these dead phosphorous LCD screens is something that approximates their own reflection, and isolation. Bits and bytes are useful – but they’re not where real power is exercised. And fantasies are popular here – “blog shares” mirrored Wall Street, in a harmless way, and “Emergent Democracy” mirrors real power in an equally harmless way too. Somehow, we suspect, Karl Rove (dubya’s Peter Mandelson) isn’t losing sleep over these capers.
At least no one can say that the rigorous academic standards at Harvard are slipping.