Seeking Semiotic Democracy on Election Night

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the Berkman Center’s Blogger Bash today, but like many others, I’m wiling away the hours before the Midterm Midtacular by checking in on CNN and blogs while keeping an ear to NPR (and Chicago Public Radio) for election news and finishing up some left over Halloween candy. (I’m a bit sad that my look-alike couldn’t pull off a victory.) I also caught this thoughtful question tossed out by John Palfrey:

There’s no doubt that more people are getting involved in politics through Internet activism than in previous cycles. The outstanding question, it seems to me, is whether or not Internet is making a difference in the political process. I’m inclined to say it is. And seeing those who are live-blogging the election here makes that case pretty clearly to me, anyway.

John also links to the Internet and politics essay he penned back for the Votes, Bits and Bytesconference that followed on the 2004 elections in which he attempts to “to pull apart what’s real from what’s hype.”

John’s essay addresses the political process, but I’m curious whether two years later we have a greater understanding of how the internet affects the way we are governed. Let’s look at one of Palfrey’s “three dimensions along which the Internet might prove to have a positive impact,” “Semiotic Democracy.”

As law professors Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler, Terry Fisher, and others argue, digital technologies make possible a more interactive relationship between people and media. Citizens adopt a more active relationship with information – not just passively accepting what is fed through the broadcast medium, but rather engaging with it and recreating it in intriguing, creative ways. The result might be a more energized citizenry and “semiotic democracy” – the “recoding” and “reworking” of cultural meaning.

Two years later, is there evidence that we are more energized, are there signs of semiotic democracy? Certainly, the war, Katrina and corruption scandals may have energized liberal voters, but I don’t attribute much of that energy to the internet. I suspect that the election news junkies among us would be just as junkified, with or without the Internets. I am reminded by frequent exhortations by a non-blogging, a labor organizer friend that shoe leather on-the-ground is more important than bloggers and bits. I’ve argued this over with him several times, but some of tonight’s results may bear him out. (As of this writing, certain bloggers [updated with fixed link] are notably quiet on Lamont’s apparent loss– or saying such claims are merely an “MSM” thing.) But what does the research bear out? Yes, we can use information ourselves when we can access it and there are some cool tools for covering the poltical process and actual voting. But has our ability to maintain “a more active relationship with information” changed the way our governments do their work and deliver services? Not yet, not from where I sit.

Finally, how could I end an Election Day post without Alice Cooper. (With a nod to Steve Dahl.)

3 thoughts on “Seeking Semiotic Democracy on Election Night

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