Mar 082010
 
Authors: Josh Phillips

Since the commercialization of the World Wide Web (W3) in the mid-90s, our lives have been flooded with information about everything from everyone from everywhere on the planet. Business has forever been transformed, forcing firms to compete on a global scale. Trends in art and entertainment flow freely from one side of the planet to another, diminishing the gap between “fashionable” and “fad” like never before.

We carry the W3 in our pockets on our Blackberrys and to the local coffee shop on our laptops, bringing with it an incalculable amount of information. At every moment of every day, the sum of human knowledge is at our fingertips, ready to be absorbed and utilized.

As personal lives and businesses are being redefined due to the W3’s inescapable reach, so too are governments and politicians. Thirty years ago, the only means to learn of current events involved daily purchases of newspapers or the commitment of a few hours in front of the TV or radio. Thirty years ago, we were forced to wait as media outlets passed on the information we sought, which we more than likely garnered from a single source.

For the first time in the history of mankind, the price of information is virtually nothing. Knowledge is free, easily accessible and effortlessly verified. We can learn what transpired during a Congressional hearing moments after it has concluded. Some senators even post comments on Twitter.com while in attendance of such meetings.

Our leaders face a dam of indefinite breadth which is bursting at the seams with information and opinions, shaping policies and careers. Never before has an opinion platform allowed an angry voter in Oregon to describe his frustration to an apathetic citizen in Maine within a matter of seconds.

No doubt our presidents will suffer most severely from this explosion of opinionated babble. George W. Bush was the first president to fully experience a W3-immersed America, which forced his administration to adopt an unprecedented level of transparency — whether it wanted to or not.

Perhaps in Bush’s defense we can assume this compulsory openness directly contributed to his low approval ratings. No president had ever dealt with a public so armed with the knowledge of current events. The World Wide Web may have been developed during Clinton’s presidency, but it was only in its infancy. It had not yet produced the means to successfully—and so viciously — defy a president.

Imagine if the Nixon administration had faced a W3-equipped America. The outrage and disappointment America felt would have spread like a wildfire, the W3 its catalyst. Instead, America’s anger was akin to a house fire set by the arsonist traditional media — without the aid of an accelerant.

It’s likely that many past presidents were guilty of acts that would induce a sharp drop in approval ratings, but never faced consequences because the public was never exposed to them.
The ever-decreasing cost of knowledge is a two-edged sword for future trends in American politics. On one side of the sword, the public is empowered due to its ability to quickly refine its views and opinions from the instant acquisition of knowledge.

On the other side, policymakers are subject to rumors, falsifications and outright lies that can gain incredible momentum in no time. Defamatory accusations can be misinterpreted as truth through Internet memes and Jon Stewart’s official Web site.

And now President Obama must face the ruthless giant that is the W3. The next few years will no doubt resemble a boxing match, Obama in one corner and the ‘net in the other. The W3 has unmistakably claimed the first year, as Obama’s administration failed to quell the insurrection that surged against his push for health care.

Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s advisors, suggested issuing informational pamphlets to the public. To continue the boxing analogy, this would be like throwing a jab in response to a haymaker. No printed pamphlet will ever be able to oppose the ever-expanding World Wide Web, and if this is the best Obama’s administration has to offer, then this boxing match will only last a few rounds.

The presidency is changing, and it will most certainly be interesting to see how Obama and future officeholders adapt to the pressure created by the W3.

Josh Phillips is a senior business administration major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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