Vantage point

Friday, April 16, 2010

Politics in 2030 or 2040: Changed forever by Facebook and Twitter?

I have finally gotten around to reading Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, which I recommend to all of you as a book you absolutely MUST own, not only for its rivetingly detailed narrative and inside info, but for the sheer historic value of the 2008 election. And the fact that the authors of this books had way way more access than anyone else to the behind the scenes happenings.

Anyway, the book got me thinking....

As most of you must have read, the Library of Congress is going to archive every public tweet ever made. That got me thinking. Public tweets will be a matter of public record. Blogs are available publicly, or through web-based archives even if deleted. And, anything anyone ever posts on Facebook or MySpace or Orkut or whatever, while still protected by privacy terms and conditions, is still stored somewhere out there. Accessible to resourceful folks at any time.

So anything we ever post online, is recorded somewhere. Can you imagine how radically and drastically this is going to change the mechanics of politics a couple of decades from now? Imagine some carefree high school or college kid of today running for political office in 2030 or 2040. A guy/girl who posted about his/her drinking binges, sexual escapades, experimentation with drugs? It'll all be there! Unlike Bill Clinton, who got queried on whether or not he inhaled, the candidates of the future will have their past thrown at them. In ways that cannot be disproved!

Forget the personal stuff....the booze, sex, drugs and all that. Let's assume that society 2-3 decades from now is totally cool and doesn't give a crap about those things in a politician's life. What about other stuff? Like political views? Other views or arguments? Won't politicians have to defend them too, no matter how far back they were made?

You folks know me. For almost 8 years now, I have been spewing opinions that have ranged from the reasonable to the extreme, and may well have contradicted each other. Suppose I run for political office in 2025, and someone throws in my face some post I made in 2004, asking me to either defend or disown it. Stuff I won't even remember writing, and certainly will not remember my state of mind.

Here's an example. I still occasionally get stinker emails and recently even stinker tweets about calling Ernesto Guevera a terrorist and equating him to Bin Laden in a post five years ago. I still believe in what I wrote then, but it clearly is not a popular point of view. If I am asked to defend that post in a political debate 15 years from now, instead of whatever I stand for then, I will be quite befuddled! And every post I ever made can be pulled up and thrown in my face!

Seems far-fetched? People dug up the candidates college and even middle school essays in 2008! With digging in the past so easy, it will definitely happen in the future.

So how will politics change? Thinking from a rudimentary game theory perspective, maybe it will be a good thing and lead to an equilibrium that is more honest and reflective of reality. Everyone will leave a paper trail, or should I say "electron trail" of their past. So if my opponent rakes up my blog posts, I can rake up his/her tweets or facebook updates too, right? Everyone will be forced to be more "honest". Will they? Will it make politicians espouse values and principles they actually believe in, as opposed to the ones they officially mouth in public? We should certainly hope so!

Hmm....politicians who stand for what they actually believe in. Should be an interesting experiment. Think our species can survive that?