Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's the Networks, Stupid... Really?

It's not the economy... It's the networks, stupid.

At least that's how Roger Cohen of the New York Times is analyzing this year's presidential election campaign. He says that it's Barack Obama's grasp of online social-networking, "more than any other factor", that has propelled his campaign to the brink of the Democratic nomination.

Really? It's indisputable that Obama's huge fundraising advantage can be largely attributed to online contributions from small donors, but to claim that MySpace and Facebook are more responsible for his success than, say, his policy positions or his treatment in the mainstream media, seems a bit of reach, to say the least.

Cohen makes some terrific points about the cultural and generational shifts presently occurring in American politics, such as how the Cold War mentality of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has been replaced with Mutually Assured Connectivity (MAC), and how with global connectivity "our commerce, culture, ideas, manners — are increasingly shared, coordinated by newly global conversations in these domains, but in which our politics remains inescapably national".

These are very valid points and it's a conversation certainly worthy of engagement, but it's a far stretch from his additional assertion that, "in the globalized world of MySpace, LinkedIn and the rest, sociability is a force as strong as sovereignty."

I'd love to agree that online social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are now a more powerful force in politics than are nation-states... because it would mean I'd have some pretty good job prospects. But come on.

The problem with Roger Cohen's argument is one of causality. Just because something happens before another doesn't mean that the first thing CAUSED the second, and likewise, just because Obama has a strong online presence, and then wins the nomination, does not necessarily mean that what happened online was the primary cause of his victory.

You could just as easily (and possibly more accurately) attribute his success over Hillary Clinton to not having to defend a vote for the Iraq War.

Nation-state sovereignty is not whithering away, and it's not yet, at least in politics, all about the networks. To claim that MySpace and Facebook are so powerful is like a baseball player saying that wearing a garter belt leads to better hitting - since that's what made the difference and worked for him so obviously yesterday.

But we all know that overlooks a lot of other factors... like keeping your eyes on the ball.


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