Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bush and the Battle of New Orleans

A guest post by JS:

In a shocking turn of events, DB is criticizing Bush. All I can say is hurry up cause the guy's presidency has less than a week left. After that, you're just criticizing an EX-president, and then you're no different than the RWers who criticize Carter.

I'm not writing this to defend Bush. I think enough has been said back and forth on this issue and quite frankly I'm bored of the criticism and bored of the support. What I think is more interesting is to think about the level of scrutiny Bush was subject to, not as a function of his alleged incompetence, but instead as a function of the advancement of Internet technology.

To introduce my point, consider the Battle of New Orleans which took place about 2 weeks after the Treaty of Ghent officially brought an end to the War of 1812. Approximately 50 years later, such an event would be unfathomable due to the completion of the transatlantic telegraph line. Similarly, advancements in communication technologies have fundamentally changed our society.

The number of people globally using the Internet has gone up more than 4-fold since 2000, from about 361 million to about 1.5 billion. United States usage has increased from about 95 million to about 220 million (see here). But beyond that, the way in which we use the Internet has drastically changed. Wikipedia was founded in 2001. YouTube was founded in 2005. MySpace was founded in 2003 and Facebook in 2004. Blogger (and blogging) first took off in approximately 2000. The first commercial camera phones in the US were launched in 2002. Numerous other examples exist.

The point is that technology has allowed us to share information in an unprecedented manner. This technology is as earth shattering an event as that first transatlantic telegraph line that instantly shortened transatlantic communication from a 10+ day time span to a few minutes. And just as that telegraph line made a major battle taking place after an official peace treaty unfathomable, waiting more than a few minutes (sometimes seconds) for news to travel across the globe is unfathomable today. With the proliferation of the Internet, broadband communication, cell phones, camera phones, digital cameras, blogging, social networking sites, etc governments are subject to a level of scrutiny that has never existed before. Within seconds of an event occurring, a blog post goes up with pictures, commentary, a video, and linkbacks to websites across the Internet providing more information.

Certainly Bush's presidency had many failings, but the magnitude of those failings was amplified to a degree that has never existed before due to the scrutiny made possible by modern technology. It's a useful thought experiment to ponder how we would view Bush if he was President before the Internet (or "web 2.0") took off, say in the early to mid 90's. In my opinion, many of his failings would not be known at all, and many others would not be viewed as failings or not be viewed as harshly. Technology has irrevocably changed our perceptions and what we expect from government.

Bush's legacy will be defined by his lack of adaptation to these changes in communication. Personally, I welcome higher scrutiny as being good for democracy, but think there needs to be a better balance in how we use the new information available to critique. To take an example from Israel and the current conflict, the proliferation of images coming from Gaza, reports of protests around the world, anti-Israel blog postings, etc shouldn't affect the fundamental moral underpinnings of the war. However, people being people, I think the solution for Obama and Israel (and all governments) going forward is going to be fighting fire with fire and ensuring technology is used effectively in your cause. I just hope this adds clarity to the situation instead of just having louder and louder voices talking over each other.

Buy my book. (please)
Buy the other guy's book. (please)
Buy my wife a gift (please)

No comments: