As some fill their summers with beach trips, part-time jobs, or underpaid (or not-at-all-paid) internships, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work as a PAID undergraduate researcher, spending my time studying political communication! I am just now concluding my first week of research, and I can’t believe it’s over already. I feel like I’ve spent this entire week seeking out articles, searching blogs, and navigating the library. (I honestly got a bit lost in the library yesterday…Dear UD, I suggest you add a few more ‘Exit’ signs so I can figure out how to escape you!)
However, most of my week has been spent on this very computer! I’ve never been one to be amazed at technology, but I must admit that my reliance on this computer has put me a bit in awe of the world we live in. All the information I needed this week lived on this very screen; even all my readings and articles have been scanned and organized in a program called Mendeley, which allows me to go through my readings while highlighting and adding electronic notes. It even pulls all the annotation information from the article, so I can instantly cite it while writing! When I had a question about what a term meant or wanted to search for more articles by a certain author, I googled the topic and had an answer within seconds.
This phenomena of instantaneous information is exactly what I’m hoping to study this summer. We have the unique advantage of being able to learn about almost any type of information, anywhere, anytime. However, the basis of the political world is messaging, in particular, control of the message. Politicians ultimately want to be elected, and the only way to do so is to create a credible campaign with a trustworthy candidate and positive messaging. While television likely helped personable, attractive candidates, the Internet can destroy even the most personable, attractive candidates. One wrong move, one slip of the tongue will almost certainly be picked up by some blogger or YouTube contributor somewhere. That mistake will likely be communicated to millions of viewers over and over again on computer screens and cable news networks nationwide. The lesson of this? Don’t call someone a macaca. You will be caught, and you will not get reelected.
… Just kidding; that’s not really the lesson. I don’t believe we know what the lesson truly is yet. We know the Internet is one of the most powerful decentralizing forces we’ve seen in a long time. We know the Internet is not going away anytime soon. We know that people love to communicate via the Internet, whether it be by social media, like Facebook and Twitter, Skype, instant messaging, or e-mail. But, what we don’t know is if people are using the Internet to gain knowledge and participate in politics. They may like a candidate on Facebook because their friends do, but do they know what that candidate stands for? They may tweet about an article on the BP oil spill, but do they also write a letter to their Senator? In the future, how can a political campaign use the internet to help them win votes rather than lose them? The Internet is often cited as a powerful grassroots force in Obama’s 2008 victory, but I doubt any of their campaign strategists forsaw the popularity of the infamous Obama Girl. (Okay, so maybe her “I got a crush..on Obama” hit helped them in the end, but I’m sure this wasn’t part of their strategic messaging!)
Ultimately, how do new internet technologies change the face of political communication? Is the Internet effective in fostering civic responsibilities through freely providing citizens with information? How are citizens using the information they are presented with? Does the interactive interface of the Internet blur the lines between merely communicating about politics and actually participating in politics? How has communication remained the same, despite changes in technology throughout our history?
I hope to successfully answer these questions. Lucky for me, this entails staying up-to-date on the latest blogs and social media trends, all of which can be done while still lounging in my room, drinking a cup of coffee. The life of a professional blogger is becoming more and more appealing everyday…