BY JOHN M. EGER
Time magazine’s Person of the Year was you!
A piece of reflective Mylar acted as a mirror on the cover of last December’s issue, allowing each of us , subscriber or curious newsstand observer , a chance to see oneself on the cover.
As Time would have it, ostensibly, the cover gave each of us a chance to think about our newfound, empowered role in world affairs and as Time’s editor Rick Stengel put it, thus “changing the nature of the information age” and “engage(ing) citizens of a new digital democracy.”
It may well be that Time is right; that 2006 clearly marked the year that power has shifted from nation states and national and international political leaders, to each of us , to individuals and individual communities , as never before.
Clearly the Internet, with Web sites like YouTube and MySpace, or search engines like Google, has given us more access to more information than ever before.
Young people post their profiles and reach out to new communities of like minded young people (and some weirdos, too, we are finding); some of us have used Finder.com to renew old friendships; and more of us are blogging daily to affect U.S. political campaigns like George Allen’s Virginia race for the Senate (remember Macaca) or to stop global warming.
In the long run, it may be argued that people are going online and influencing decisions about everything from art and politics to commerce.
This, in turn, is changing the way marketers and political strategists think about their product or their candidate, reflecting more of the interests and needs and concerns of the body politic.
We are being heard, Time says, and a new form of online governance is taking shape.
Maybe. But maybe not.
In the short run, as Dan Yankelovich, world-renowned research guru and pollster points out, fewer and fewer people are going to the polls, mostly because they don’t think that voting is an effective way to express their hopes and dreams.
Sadly, as Yankelovich says, those that do vote aren’t so sure their vote counts.
Thus, in the short run, more people are disheartened and disillusioned by their elected officials and those running their schools and our global corporations. Democracy seems like it’s on a downward spiral.
Old Model Broken?
While the new Internet-based model is clearly having its impact, the old democratic model, it can be argued, is broken.
On the world scale, a majority of Americans want something different in Iraq. They want some solutions to global warming; they want alternatives in our foreign policy.
America knows, too, they need something more than the no-child-left-behind legislation; better partnerships between federal and state and local elected officials and between those representing so-called blue states from red.
In the long run, our individual advocacy using the Internet may bear fruit. In the short run, we need to organize ourselves and to be involved in the public policy arena.
Our freedoms , and our unique free enterprise system and our constitutionally protected rights of speech assembly and religion , are what have given us the most robust information economy in the world.
California alone produces more books, movies, software, information or knowledge products of all kinds than any other country in the world.
In this new global age, particularly the flattened world economy that (New York Times columnist) Thomas Friedman talks about, we need to strengthen our political and economic muscles as the line between the two blurs more than we ever imagined.
John M. Eger, Van Deerlin chair of Com & #173;muni & #173;cations and Public Policy at San Diego State University, is a member of the Envision San Diego partnership, a media forum for discussing public policy issues affecting the region.