John Shields

The Twitterazzi Democracy

Filed By John Shields | April 23, 2009 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics

The scene was set for some serious political dialogue regarding how the two presidential campaigns "handled" new technologies during last year's election. From senators to representatives to the online directors for both the Obama and McCain campaign to the media - old school and new - for everyone in "the know" regarding organizing and campaigning it was a must-see event held a few blocks from the White House.

As the official videographer for the Keynote Address, I had a bird's eye view of the proceedings. The ballroom at the Reagan building was filled to capacity, and there were more computers and mobile computing platforms in the room than you'd possibly find at Best Buy on a Tuesday.

As I filmed the keynote address (a three-person panel composed of the online directors for both major party's presidential candidates along with a moderator to help keep the peace), I noticed something was missing. Most of the hundreds assembled to hear the two "experts" were too busy constantly updating their Twitter and Facebook pages that they were failing to do what they came to do in the first place: to listen and to learn.

Standing on the video platform, in plain sight of everyone and yet invisible as I was simply the "electronic recorder" of the event, it was amazing to me how many people were not paying attention to the exchange going back and forth between the panelists.

Watching it on the camera view screen, without any of my mobile computing platforms out, was an incredible experience. Not only did I hear every word the panelists said, but I caught their gestures, their asides, and yes - their snide comments directed towards each other as well as the gathered media.

By and large, however, the assembled masses were missing the live action dialogue going on in front of them. They were too busy Twittering. Even one of the panelists in an earlier session, a U.S. congressman, tweeted to the conference attendees that he would be late because of a backup on the beltway due to an accident. For all we knew, he could be home eating ice cream and watching reruns of Scooby Doo, but we all took him at his word - because it had been deemed so by his Tweet.

There were so many things that people could learn from the two presidential advisers regarding online organizing and campaigning, and I have no doubt that some of the very important points both men were stating will make it out of the echo chamber known as Washington D.C.

But watching everyone, from my bird's eye perch and unencumbered by technology, allowed me to do what many - if not most - of those in the room did not allow themselves to do: Listen.

Any good reporter knows the best way to get the story is to let the people involved talk, ask a few probing questions, record the information and then go write the story. But writing "your" story while trying to listen to others, as any good psychologist will tell you, is not a recipe for good communication. For if you are forming your answer while another party is talking or trying to communicate, you are not listening.

And that is not journalism. That is simply pushing buttons on a keypad. Technology is very helpful as we zoom through the 21st Century, but the information we gather and the masses that we organize are only going to be as effective as how we convey to them information. Facebook and Twitter are modern day versions of the wheel, a typewriter and a simple knock on your neighbor's door - they are just tools. One of many in our tool belts.

That, by the way, was one of the things both of the Obama and McCain campaign representatives actually agreed upon. My bet, however, is you won't hear about it - because everyone was tweeting at the time.

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