Friday, November 14, 2008

Impress Your Professor: It's all about who has the information (organized the best, that is)

Regardless of your political persuasion, I have a feeling that most of you will agree with me that it felt pretty thrilling to participate in the democratic process this November 4. I for one got a bit choked up standing in line outside my polling station, watching my fellow citizens also in line, all of us peaceful, patient, polite...I couldn't help but think all the way back to ancient Athens, where the idea for this form of government first formed, and marvel at the thousands of years of thought, and war, that had to take place in order for me to be able to stand quietly in line on a beautiful Fall morning, waiting to cast my vote, fully confident that I was free to vote the way I pleased, without harassment from anyone at the polls, that my vote would be secret, and that out of politeness most of my friends and co-workers would not even ask me which way I voted. It is a beautiful thing, a testament to what is best about our civilization.

Later I started thinking about just how politics works on a nitty-gritty level. How exactly does a politician "get out the vote?" I've been reading some very interesting things about Obama's astoundingly well-organized campaign, and have come to one conclusion: it's all about databases. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, it's all about social networking tools and the powerful databases behind them.

There has been a lot of talk about how Obama is using and has used the web to reach out to young people. The truly innovative thing he did, or rather Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes did for him, was convince people to input lots of personal information into his website,, much in the same way that Facebook does. And, just as Facebook is a treasure trove of information about the likes, dislikes, politics, and passions of its members, so too is And this is one treasure trove of data that just might make Obama "a Democratic Party power broker for years to come," whether or not he is in office.

So, is this transformational politics, or just politics as usual, born digital? Only time will tell, but as a database nerd I cannot wait to see how this newfound tool changes the way the parties "get out the vote."


Sarah said...
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Sarah said...

I applaud the spirit of your post, but in the interest of accuracy I must point out that Athens was a pure democracy whereas the US is a republic. Perhaps Carthage (which was a republic before Athens was a democracy) would be a better example?

Kathleen said...

Yes, I am well aware that Athens was a pure democracy whereas what we have is a Republic. I purposefully left out other mentions of city-states to keep it simple.

Kathleen said...

This is a pretty decent quick easy history of democracy as a form of gvt, if anyone is interested in the differences btw pure democracy, representative democracy, republics, etc.