A.K.A. Political Discourse In The Age Of The Singularity

“At the speed of light you’re in endless night,
At the speed of sound you can’t see the ground.”

~ Wang Chung

 

Feeling disorientated by the media recently? Concerned that politics and reason as you know it has taken a long drive off a short cliff? That rational discourse and reason have taken a vacation? Bombarded by ‘fake news’? Confused by ‘alternative facts’? Dreading that next Tweet? Shocked that politics has changed so much? Well, don’t be. Politics hasn’t changed at all.

All that’s changed is the speed at which it is delivered, and how the medium has expanded the reach of how many people can be reached by one person.

Politics and people actually never change, just their tools do. Everything has changed, and yet everything has also stayed the same. You’re now witnessing politics at the speed of the singularity, politics at the speed of light.

The mud slinging, alternative facts, and fake news is as at home today as it was in the time of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Truly. In fact, if anything, they might find our politics today tame and gentile by comparison to theirs.  If you don’t believe me, Google it. You’ll be shocked. It’s fun.

What has changed is the speed at which politics is delivered. Politics is now being conducted at the speed of light, and in this way, it is changing representative democracy.

One person can now communicate effectively with the whole world via one Tweet or social media posting. For better or for worse, leaders can speak directly to their people and their people can speak directly back to them. They can also do so without filters and the professional spin and manipulation afforded by their teams of media professionals. No middleman or journalist or editor or producer needed.  It’s politics without professional filters.

Politicians can communicate so fast that pundits have no time to react, no time to disseminate opinions, no time to check facts, no time to filter. No time to think. Who needs a speech writer for 140 characters? Who has time for a speechwriter?

According to Dr. Ray Kurzweil of Google, the Singularity is “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

These technologies are called exponential technologies.

Exponential technologies are changing our world. From machine learning and artificial intelligence to good old fashioned uses of the plain old Internet like social media. Just as these exponential technologies continue to disrupt and change markets in every walk of life, their impact upon how we communicate is changing politics and the market place of ideas accordingly. I would argue very much to the better, though you may not agree at first.

The American Revolution was a revolution in the dissemination of ideas, just as much as it was in the dissemination of democratic forms of government. Coming hard off the heels of the Renaissance, driven by the printing press and growing literacy, the use of Ben Franklin’s broadsheets to share ideas—and to smear your opponents—was revolutionary. Ideas spread faster than King George III could stop them, and an age of political discourse via the printed word was ushered in. The use of a new media technology—broadsheets—allowed political discourse to bypass the traditional means of political communication from His Majesty and the entrenched political elite.

Broadsheets became newspapers, and the editorial sway of a publication came to dominate politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Politics still didn’t change; people were still people, and we had the advent of Yellow Journalism, journalism ‘based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.’ Sound familiar? It had marked effects upon the US political base, as well was driving policy and foreign wars to boot. Selling more newspapers while driving public opinion didn’t hurt either. The printed word went from radical new technology to the messaging tool of the entrenched political elite.

People were just as worried about the anti-social effect of newspapers in their day as we are about social media today, by the way.

Yet Moore’s Law was out there and in effect, we just didn’t know it yet. Isn’t hindsight a lovely thing? New technology was about to change the way political ideas were shared, and it would shake the media to its core. This technology was Radio. Radio allowed President Roosevelt with his ‘fire side chats’ to speak directly to the electorate literally over and above the heads of the newspaper moguls who opposed him. Politics at the speed of sound.

Yet we also saw Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” in play with the use of this new media in the nationwide panic created in 1938 by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds. An interesting take on fake news.

Then radio became the tool for politics all over the world. This new technology changed governments, changed discourse, and changed politics forever, until television.

Another new technology supplanting one form of communications medium over another.  The watershed moment of change here was the televised Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon in September 1960. Those who heard Nixon on the radio thought he’d won. Those who saw Kennedy thought otherwise. A whole new level of personality politics was born, alongside a whole new medium for political attack ads and worse. Politics and people never change, just their tools do.

Politics at the speed of sight. Sound bites galore. Pundits created, Sunday morning shows galore, the age of spin, and into this came a master of communications, a former governor of California, radio announcer, and actor who fully grasped and understood the power and reach of the visual image. President Reagan changed politics again in the video age with his direct addresses to the US public, breaking into their nightly schedules, informing and entertaining and dominating this new political medium. For the better part of the last thirty or more years, we took all of this as normal, as the accepted order, and then Moore’s Law kicked in again as exponential technologies slipped into a higher gear.

Social media has now effectively replaced print, radio, and television. The traditional media are in a virtual tail spin. You can hear them screaming from here as they fly past in the whirlwind of change created by the disruption. Again, politics hasn’t changed; the world hasn’t changed, just how the world is presented to you is changing.

The Arab Spring has become the American Spring, the British Brexit, and more. Google analytics predicted the outcome of the last US Presidential Election with greater accuracy and clarity than any of the professional political pundits. Years of experience beaten by machine learning and artificial intelligence grasping big data by the scruff of its neck and shaking loose the pertinent facts far faster than any human analyst.

We're just now witnessing the impact of an American Spring.

The dissemination of news and of new ideas and the creation of political movements has been democratized to the fullest by the advent of social media.

While President Obama and Secretary Clinton may have used social media for effective fund raising, it is President Trump who, like FDR and JFK and Reagan before him, has fully grasped this new medium, this new communications tool. He has used it to leap over the establishment to speak to voters directly. For better or for worse.

We became used to the time scale of sound bites in politics. 15 second sound bites, remember the shock and horror back then? Yet our new reality became our new normality and our expectation, until this new technology of social media replaced it.

Gone are the war rooms. Gone are the situation teams with their spin doctors and speech writers massaging and manipulating a news cycle. In their place now stands lone political gun slingers firing off responses as fast as they can touch a screen. Politicians without their filters…

In this environment, opinions, facts, alternative facts don’t matter in a world where mud, sticks, and emotions rule.

All that matters is the speed of the response. Ideas are now disseminated instantly, at the speed of light, not at the speed of the printing press, not even at the speed of the editing room.

A new technology is once again changing how we communicate between ourselves and with our political leaders and they with us.

This is a big deal as this new medium is still in its relative infancy. It’s still evolving. We are still witnessing the confusion wrought by its use on the powers that be and the now ‘traditional’ media.

This is live. This is instant. This is politics now.

This is politics at the speed of light.

This is politics at the speed of the Singularity.

This is politics at the speed of life.

Is it already starting to feel like the new normal?

 

Christopher Stott
Chair Emeritus, Society of Satellite Professionals International
Chairman and CEO, ManSat

 

PS - We haven’t even mentioned the impact of big data analytics coupled with social media for targeted polling and campaigning.

 

At the Speed of Life
-Wang Chung