say anything, I think you should know that I am an unabashed
optimist. Not everyone would agree that is necessarily a good
thing. Somebody once said that if you see good in everything,
you may be an optimist or you may just be nuts. I'll let you
can make up your own minds when I've finished, but I appreciate
the opportunity to be here to discuss the most important issue
facing us as a civilization - the future of democracy in the
we head into the future, I think it's important to reflect upon
where we've been. Four hundred and eighty-one years ago, a young
priest tacked 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in
Wittenberg, Germany and created a cultural upheaval called the
Reformation that sent shock waves across the Old World. His
ideas, put to paper with pen and ink, divided families and brought
down kings. The world would never be the same all because a
single man posted a powerful idea in a public place.
Luther's time, however, communicating an idea was much more
difficult. In fact, nearly impossible, and so political conversations
were, for the most part, the purview of the elite. Luther's
ideas were powerful, but political conversation was almost entirely
dependent on oral communications that only time could facilitate.
fast forward two centuries to 1776. This time a fiery young
printer wrote a pamphlet that called for revolution and freedom
from an oppressive king. 100,000 copies of Common Sense were
printed on a cumbersome hand press. Still a very slow way to
disseminate information but light years faster than the pen
and ink of Luther's time. Political conversation now reached
a mass audience despite obstacles of illiteracy, geography,
and government opposition. Out of that political conversation
and the power of ideas, democracy was born.
forward again... this time to the present. Today, we have the
most fantastic means of communications in the history of the
world literally at our fingertips, and more people are literate
than ever before. Yet, we have a system of democracy where political
conversation has become 10 second sound bites; where we hear
media monologues instead of political dialogue; where politics
has become the cult of personality instead of the power of ideas.
result? People are rejecting current political conversation
by simply saying, "This is not an important part of my
world", returning politics more and more to the elite and
that is dangerous to the future of democracy.
I said earlier, I am an optimist, and I believe the era of digital
communications is, in fact, the prescription for what ails our
current political system. Digital technology is the best way
to communicate ideas, and democracy is the best means of realizing
those ideas. I believe this to be the most powerful combination
for improving civilization in the future.
Let me explain
why. To me democracy is based on individualism, which is reflected
in our ideas, freedom in all its forms, and in the effective
balance of government and its people. Digital communications
is going to change the political landscape in an extremely profound
way. But it's also important to understand that the political
terrain has undergone a dramatic transformation itself over
the past eight years. Previously, we fought the war of ideas
upon an ideological battlefield. Every issue or value had a
conservative viewpoint and a liberal viewpoint. The philosophical
battlelines were clearly drawn having evolved since the beginning
of the New Deal. In recent years, however, culture has replaced
ideology as the battlefield for the war of ideas - culture in
a broad sense.
in an ideological world is on individual values viewed by groups.
In a cultural world, while values or issues may still have conservative
or liberal viewpoints, it's the mix of values viewed by individuals
that matters, and the relative importance of any one value is
seen through a prism of other values. This creates our changing
fabric of culture. So, for example, in an ideological world,
the Communications Decency Act is a discussion about pornography
with social conservatives favoring the legislation while libertarians
oppose it. In a cultural world, it is a debate about pornography,
international commerce, freedom of speech, family responsibility,
and our right to define values for the world and government
regulation. Individuals weigh all or some of these competing
values in deciding how they stand on the issue.
way to see the change is to look at the evolution of technology
magazines over the past fifteen years. In the 80's, these magazines
were a litany of new products coming to market - how to use
them, their cost, and their quality. There were several prominent
magazines - PC Week, PC World, BYTE. All very good, but focused
on the "how to" of technology. This is now shifting.
Wired magazine isn't really about technology as much as it is
about the vast behavioral change technology is bringing to our
culture and just in time.
past fifty years, we have strayed from our democratic roots.
Robert Hutchins said, "the death of democracy is not likely
to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction
from apathy, indifference and undernourishment." Digital
technology gives us a second chance to revive political conversation
in this country and bring democracy to the world; to go beyond
the Information Age to a new Age of Reason.
to see the change in the early nineties when we, as a culture,
crossed a digital Rubicon moving beyond mere computing to what
I call the Four C's of the digital world: communications, content,
collaboration and community, and no area of our lives will be
more impacted by this change than our political conversation.
advent of the Internet, digital technology changed fundamentally
from computing to communications. This transformation reached
critical mass in the early nineties when it became a reliable
means of communication between individuals. This gave people
the ability to create better and richer content by combining
the written word with voice and video. Additionally, content
became data and could be searched for important bits of information.
Suddenly, millions of documents were searchable instead of looking
up indexes in books, or reviewing video or audio tapes. This
ease in developing content was combined with a tremendous increase
in speed and in a more convenient asynchronous communications
paradigm that led to more effective collaboration. Finally,
the ability to communicate more easily, develop better and more
usable content, and the ability to more effectively collaborate
led to new communities that allowed people, in a new way, to
share interests and discuss them.
like to take a moment to talk about how these four elements
are changing this new world.
this new Age of Reason, digital communications will deliver
content and meaning in a way that empowers individuals at the
expense of the elite. It will be individual-based. By that I
don't mean extreme niche marketing - down to a market of one.
In that paradigm, you gather all relevant information you can
about a person and then deliver the message most likely to succeed.
In this way, you are using several sets of behavior to target
message i.e. young, eastern, white, wealthy, educated, liberal.
In the new digital communications model, you begin to create
a relationship so you know what interests the individual, the
best way to address their concerns and you are instantly aware
of the degree of your success. This is a model that requires
you to focus your efforts beyond simply communicating an idea
to creating a relationship in order to ensure that your ideas
have meaning for the individual.
the tempo of this new communications medium will be at a pace
that is barely comprehensible today. There will be fallout.
Most organizations are incapable of operating at this pace and
failures will occur. Speed brings with it immense pressures
as well. Whether you are CNN or network television or MSNBC
or Al's "News on the Web", deadlines become irrelevant
or in reality, non-existent. With the pressure to disseminate
news in real time increasing dramatically, political conversation
communications are also asynchronous. Both the political world
and the media world will find it extremely difficult to adapt
to this change. With increasing speed of communications, we
will see the electorate demanding political information on their
terms and in their time. Individual convenience will be an integral
part of political conversation in the future.
the American people will become increasingly more difficult
to reach as information options explode. Today, we have several
hundred channels of satellite television; remote controls to
bounce from one information source to another; video tapes,
computer games, and chat rooms as well as traditional outlets
like radio and newspapers. This fracturing of the market has
serious implications for those whose function in life is political
conversation - namely the media and campaign professionals.
In the 1980's, a 400 gross rating point buy was considered an
effective level of advertising. In theory a single gross rating
point means that an advertisement was seen by 1% of the media
market it was shown in. A 400 point buy would mean that on average
each person in the media market was exposed to an advertisement
four times. In reality, some would see it six times, and others
would see it only twice. If the buy were very targeted, some
would see it eight times, others not at all. Now, it can take
1000 points a week or more to create a memorable impression
with an audience, and this fracturing is likely to continue.
fewer and fewer people reading newspapers. In fact, according
to James Adams, the CEO of United Press, the number of newspaper
readers has declined by 600,000 a year for the last ten years.
Moreover, younger adults are abandoning the newspaper enmasse.
While adult readership has gone from 81% to 64% over the past
30 years, the majority of young people 18-24 don't read a newspaper
isn't doing much better. A Veronis Suhler survey predicts that
we will see a 20 percent decline between 1990 and 2000 in the
number of hours watched per person per year. Another survey,
by ActivMedia Incorporated found that Internet users spend less
time reading books and 70 percent said they watched less TV.
Reaching people with a political message is becoming problematic
and will get worse.
the past, even bad programs could get an audience. Now content
is king and without it the audience evaporates. Message must
be clear, pertinent, persuasive, and personalized, and people
are demanding more and more interactivity in their communications.
Political conversation must function under the same parameters.
the delivery of message - the cost of political conversation
- will become much cheaper. The expense will be in creating
the message and identifying the participants.
content, collaboration and community will clearly be the new
arbiters of political conversation in the new Age of Reason.
I'd like you to keep one thing in the back of your minds, however.
a real conflict going on in the communications world that is
not party-based or ideologically based nor is it limited to
the political arena. It's a paradigm shift from those who are
analog-based in the way they think and communicate and those
who are digital-based in their approach. This transition is
difficult whether you're a Fortune 500 company or an elementary
school or the United States Congress because it requires a fundamental
shift in behavior -- never an easy task for the most flexible
inevitably, digital will succeed. Our culture will dramatically
transform itself. It's already happening and nowhere is the
pressure more evident than on the three areas that most impact
democracy - the media, the Congress and political campaigns.
to take a few moments to talk about these key elements of democracy;
and how their role is changing in a digital environment. Let
me start with what I know best - the Congress. There are two
major relational shifts occurring in the congressional world.
are beginning to build relationships with their constituents
in different ways that provide a richer experience for both;
and second, average citizens are gaining access to the kind
of information only highly-paid Washington lobbyists had before.
This second goal has been a particular priority of the Speaker
and is an important construct of his clear vision for an Information
has begun to move to a more information friendly environment.
Votes, texts of bill, schedules and floor statements are available
on-line as well as the member information through individual
websites. Most committees have done the same thing. All are
realizing they have a unique opportunity to talk directly to
the public. Moreover, they can communicate without the filters
of the news media - an important political consideration.
We do see
a certain unevenness in the implementation of digital technology
member by member having more to do with age and attitude than
party affiliation or ideology. Congress is still struggling
with the concept of relationship building with constituents
in place of traditional one-way communication.
of constituent e-mail is a major hurdle. Most offices simply
refuse to change how they do business to accommodate e-mail
traffic. They view several hundred daily additional requests
for information as a problem that will overwhelm their operations.
Since most are still analog in behavior, they're probably right.
Culturally, they must begin to view these new requests for information
as an opportunity to convey their views to more citizens and
from a mechanical standpoint, must redesign their internal processes
to achieve this goal.
A lot of
progress has been made, but major changes in organizational
behavior are necessary. In most offices, there is a "geek"
that puts up the web page. It's updated maybe once a week -
if at all. Many web pages are put up by a central technology
support unit for the House - never to be changed again. There
are some offices that make regular updates. The Speaker's website
is current as are other members' sites like Rick White of Washington,
but too many waste their websites by lack of content and timeliness.
As a body,
the Congress needs to understand the Four C's and the fact that
the web is not primarily a technical environment but a communications
environment. In most Hill offices today, a techie operates the
website and begs the press person for something to put up on
the website to keep it fresh. It is usually not a part of the
overall communications plan but simply a device that lets the
communications director present their member as technically
savvy. However, as the Congress becomes younger, the number
of members who understand the value of the web is increasing.
offices will learn that it is much easier, faster and cheaper
to respond to e-mail. Additionally, once the e-mail address
has been captured, a member can begin to develop a relationship
with that person. This shift alone makes me optimistic about
the interaction of the Internet and democracy. Technology will
make it easier and easier for Congress to talk to the public
and vice-versa, and it is that political conversation that will
generate the ideas to sustain democracy. When members change
their focus, and they will, and begin building e-mail listservs
of 15-20,000 people, they will be able to generate levels of
contact with constituents unheard of before. As a result, they
will be more effective in understanding and representing their
constituent's views, and in a democracy, that's the name of
politics is no different. Building a relationship with voters
in a campaign is just as important as congressional constituent
service. Digital communications, I believe, will radically change
the way we conduct campaigns in this new Age of Reason.
have been using the Internet for the last two cycles, but it
is still a secondary consideration particularly in contrast
to TV advertising. Many campaigns have had websites, but, like
congressional office, sites have not been a part of the communications
plan here either. In reality, campaign sites amounted to little
more than digital direct mail or an easy outlet for media contacts.
Once the content was put up, it changed little as the campaign
'96 website is a perfect example. It was a sophisticated site
put together by techies but in a campaign full of people looking
at the world through analog-colored glasses, no one saw the
value in providing content that could have helped build relationships
with potential voters.
e-mail is free in contrast to snail mail, it also has not yet
been effectively used to contact and deliver message in campaigns.
The mechanism to create good e-mail lists has not been developed
either in the political arena or in the marketplace. Most campaigns,
however, are mass media oriented. It is much easier for campaigns
to purchase advertising than to build a knowledge base of its
relationships and then sustain those relationships through communication,
content, collaboration and a sense of community.
But as we
move into a digital world, as the market fractures and people
demand convenient and personally meaningful information, the
mass media paradigm that has been the staple of political campaigns
and the bread and butter of consultants for years will become
obsolete. This shift is not only a fundamental change. It will
be a major battle as well. Many political consultants ridicule
the concepts of the digital communications world or try to interpret
them in an analog context to sustain mass media or keep the
gravy train running.
of not using mass media to win a campaign is outside most political
operative's sphere of comprehension or, given the lucrative
nature of mass media, is beyond their willingness to accept
as reality. Certainly, for the foreseeable future, mass media
will continue to be more important, but as the audience continues
to fracture, the effectiveness of mass media will only decline.
Eventually, even its staunchest defenders will have to admit
defeat and move toward a digital campaign environment or go
the way of the dinosaurs of another age.
of dinosaurs, the last area I want to discuss in terms of the
impact of a digital world is the traditional mainstream media.
Here again, the 4 C's - communications, content, collaboration
and community will shape the future of the media and its role
in encouraging and sustaining democracy.
that voter participation has declined steadily over the past
thirty years with just over 50% of eligible voters casting a
ballot in the last presidential election. We don't know all
the reasons why, but what we do know is that people have tuned
out the political conversation and that occurred long before
the latest Washington scandal. The traditional media must accept
some of the blame for this apathy and television the lion's
share. In fact, Paddy Chayevsky once called television "democracy
at its ugliest."
imagine ABC News covering the Boston Tea Party - "This
is Peter Jennings. Extremists polluted Boston Harbor today claiming
to be fighting for lower taxes. Environmentalists called them
tools of the landed gentry."
Third calling George Washington "out of control",
I suspect, would earn more air time on CBS than a content-driven
explanation of the key message points of Tom Paine's Common
can count on Dateline, Twenty-Twenty, 60 Minutes and Prime Time
Live to all compete for the first exclusive interview with Benjamin
Franklin's landlady on the good doctor's latest dalliance.
wonder that today's political conversation means so little to
most people, and why many now seek alternative sources - digital
sources - of information. That search for unfiltered or at least
self-filtered news is what's got the media elite up in arms.
journalists will say they're fighting to maintain ethics and
credibility in news dissemination, but they're actually fighting
for their very existence. They understand that to lose control
of the content and timing of news is to lose their power base.
On-line reporters are generally given the same status in the
mainstream reporting world that Ken Starr would get lunching
at the White House mess these days. A digital-based reporter
is considered credible only when he or she is published or appears
in the mainstream media.
We see more
and more analog stories on the dangers of the Internet: the
threat of spreading wild rumors; the pressure of producing news
in real time leading to bad reporting; the risk of having so-called
"non-professionals" allowed to report news; the ability
of any and every kind of group to push propaganda; the dangers
of the Internet to our children. It's a Chicken Little approach
to change that has little merit; more self-protective coloration
than legitimate complaint.
UPI's chief I spoke of earlier, has had a lot to say on the
subject of the traditional media's ostrich-like rejection of
on-line information as potential competition. He recently told
a story of appearing on a panel of media representatives in
Washington when the topic of the Web and the future of the media
was raised. "Among my colleagues on the panel, " he
said, "the word Internet was received like a bad smell,
a passing inconvenience that no members of polite society would
wish to discuss in public. It is that attitude that has contributed
to the current sorry state of the traditional media." Those
are the words of the leader of one of the world's oldest news
the demise of traditional media, if it comes, will be the result
of the media's failure to acknowledge the 4 C's of the digital
age. They refuse to acknowledge the value of digital communication.
They fail to understand that the increasingly filtered content
of their news and, in the case of television, its 30 second
sound bite paradigm no longer provides what people want. They
seem unable to adapt to the notion that new collaborations are
necessary in the new digital community in which we seek information
the digital age - the new Age of Reason - will be increasingly
individual - based. If you want to watch hype, you can still
watch analog media, but if you want to understand the substance
of issues, there will be many locations to walk you through
even the most complicated of proposals. That doesn't mean these
sources are any less biased than traditional news organizations
but the filter will be out front and the focus will be on content;
on ideas - which in anybody's framework is a better result.
will be better off because political discussion will be driven
more by the electorate; and when the electorate is engaged,
it becomes more participatory. That's good for democracy. I
think all of us understand that not all ideas are equal nor
is every idea a good one. Winston Churchill put it this way,
"When there is a great deal of free speech, there is always
a certain amount of foolish speech."
world doesn't prejudge ideas, it simply makes them more accessible
- good and bad. But it isn't a substitute for the human mind.
The individual must make the distinction between ideas of merit
and madness. We didn't ban books because Mein Kampf was written.
There will always be evil in the world, but censorship is never
an acceptable substitute for diligence.
culture, values and education become more important in a digital
democracy because the individual will be vested once again with
real power - the power of ideas.
today by telling you that I am an optimist. Digital technology,
I believe, has the potential to radically change the world order
much as Martin Luther's rough parchment and Thomas Paine's ink-stained
pamphlets did in their time. I believe it can change the world
for the better bringing education and enlightenment to corners
of the world held too long in dark tyranny.
seen the beginnings. Under siege in the Russian White House,
Boris Yeltsin sent a fax to let the world know freedom was still
alive. As academics connected on-line to reach across the Iron
Curtain, the undeniable power of democratic ideals brought down
the Berlin Wall. Today, over 600,000 people in China have access
to the net and that number is expected to reach 7 million in
the unbelievably short span of the next three years. Can democracy
long be denied a people once they have tasted freedom? I believe
the answer is no.
Roosevelt said that "Democracy is not a static thing."
He was right. It is constantly changing; reinventing itself;
expanding and retracting as the political environment warms
and cools to its precepts. Digital democracy will be no different
at its core, but it has an opportunity unlike any in the history
of the world to bring people and ideas together. If we embrace
this exciting digital world, our own democracy will be strengthened
and civilization will surely embark on a new Age of Reason and
a new era of individual freedom.