So I got my first robocall today. Nope, it wasn’t a call for John McCain or Barack Obama. Considering I live in California, a state that is going uncontested in the presidential election, that should not be a surprise.
Rather, it was a robocall supporting Cindy Sheehan, the woman who made news back in 2005 by camping nearby GW’s ranch in Crawford for four weeks. Many may not know this, but Ms. Sheehan is challenging Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for her seat in the House representing San Francisco.
So why am I bringing this up? It’s not to support either of these candidates. The reason I bring it up is rather to talk about the opportunity to use technology in the political process.
You see, I’m a sucker for both technology and politics. Luckily I get to think about technology all of the time for my job, and I spend lots of my spare time in between work following the political horse races. That being said, these robocalls are a real disappointment for me. I love seeing technology being used to organize people to participate in the political process (e.g., I recently heard Jared Cohen tell a story of a young kid in Colombia that started an anti-terrorist group on Facebook that ultimately led to a real-world protest of more than 10 million people!). I love seeing people use blogs, Twitter, and Facebook to share their ideas, express their opinions with the world, and then see people be able to challenge those ideas and beliefs in the public domain for all to see and learn from. I even like seeing the little dials go up and down after a debate to see how viewers reacted to the candidates messages (although I do agree with Nate Silver that they should only be used after the debate as not to influence people in real-time). But the robocalls accomplish none of these greater goals. They are highly intrusive. They are overly narrow. And they don’t enable or promote the public exchange and flow of ideas.
I think we can do much better.