Sunday, June 13, 2004

The power of the internet

A revolution is in progress – and the elites do not even know it is happening.

One of the more entertaining activities, during what is going to prove a long night, is going to be watching the serried ranks of politicians, commentators and hacks try to make sense of the events that unfold.

Already, we are seeing the print pundits all over the place, with many-fold different reasons being offered for what amounts to a political earthquake. The same phenomenon will be evident when the broadcast media take their turn on the stage this evening.

What it all adds up to is that the great sages – who collectively make up that tiny political elite and opinion-formers – simply do not know what is going on. Furthermore, having been locked in their own little self-regarding bubble for so long, they have lost the capacity to understand the signals they are being sent, and do not even have the vocabulary with which to express their increasingly incoherent thoughts.

One of the more important reasons for this, I am convinced, is the internet. This web of high-speed communications has provided an alternative channel, outside the control of the establishment, offering the means to exchange views, analyses and information, at a speed even the broadcast media cannot match.

Part of that phenomenon is the "blog" or "weblog", of which this site is but one example. Less than two months old, it is now taking over 300 hits a day, and traffic is growing by the week. That may be small beer, but many of the postings are downloaded and circulated to discussion sites and e-mail circulation lists, as well as other blogs, while a small but influential circle of journalists are regularly consulting the site. With this multiplier effect, posting are being read by thousands, within hours of publication.

But this is just one blog. Altogether, there are now no less than four and a half million active blogs on the web, some taking more than 10,000 hits a day. Most of them are American. Many are devoted to unutterable rubbish and trivia – but many are not. The best offer fast, perceptive analysis, this one by Iain Murray being one good example click here.

For the first time in history, therefore, a small but significant proportion of the electorate is better and more quickly informed than either the political elites or the media. While the establishment is still receiving old information and struggling to assimilate and analyse it, the "bloggers" have already dealt with it, understood it and moved on – often benefiting from much wider sources of information than the narrow filter that constrains the horizons of the establishment media.

From this new source of information comes the cascade effect, as information trickles down through a myriad of channels, to a wider circle of people – by telephone, word of mouth, leaflet and even snail mail - amounting to an explosion of people power.

Such is the effectiveness and breadth of the new pathway that I find that even when I visit the so-called centres of activity, such as Westminster, rather than picking up information, one feels deprived of it – out of touch.

People who traditionally would have been regarded as at the centre of events are looking at information that is days and sometimes weeks old. They are unaware of current discussion topics and developments, and are fatally limited in their breadth of understanding. Worse still, they still believe themselves to be informed, at the centre, not even beginning to understand that they are being left at the margins.

What we are witnessing, therefore, is nothing short of a revolution, where information is no longer in the hands of the select few. But information is still power – so with the change in the pattern of its availability comes a step-change in the distribution of power.

The pity of it is that many of those who believe themselves to be in power are unable even to turn on a computer, much less surf the net. As the revolution builds its momentum, they do not even know it is happening.

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