“Congratulations for restoring sanity and intelligence to Washington…and giving the world its first President. Real hard work begins now. Look after him!”
This was my brief message to American friends soon after they elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.
It was entirely appropriate that I sent this message via mobile phone text (SMS). For Obama’s trail-blazing campaign to the White House used the new media innovatively while also using the old media (such as broadcast television) in a complementary manner.
Obama’s rise has epitomised change in many ways. Among other things, he is the first elected leader of a major democracy who shows understanding and mastery over the New Media World, which is radically different from the old media order.
As AFP reported in a story titled ‘Obama surfs the web to the White House‘: “Social networks and Twitter messages may have helped but analysts agree it was the Democrat’s impressive online organization and Internet fund-raising that fueled his victory over Republican John McCain in Tuesday’s election.”
It quoted Julie Germany, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Politics Democracy & the Internet, as saying: “No one’s going to say Obama won the election because of the Internet but he wouldn’t have been able to win without it. From the very beginning the Obama campaign used the Internet as a tool to organize all of its efforts online and offline. It was like the central nervous system of the campaign.”
Both Obama and McCain campaigns had slick websites and TV campaigns. But additionally, Obama inspired thousands of web-savvy volunteers to extend his message way beyond the official outreach. Doing so risked diluting the campaign or losing tight control, but that gamble paid off.
Al Gore, US vice president from 1992 to 2000, also understood the potential of new media, especially the transformative nature of the Internet. But at the time he was in office, the new media tools were not being used by sufficiently large numbers of people for it to make a difference in political campaigning or citizen engagement.
Both the timing and technologies favoured Obama, who successfully tapped into Digital Natives — those relatively younger people who have grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3. (In contrast, Digital Immigrants are those individual who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later.)
But as many commentators are pointing out, the real fight has just begun. It remains to be seen how Obama and his team use New Media tools, platforms and potential to deliver the promise of change.
Meanwhile, my own favourite cartoon of Obama election is the one above – and funnily enough, it concerns a piece of old technology: the good old fixed phone. If you recall, in long-drawn campaign for Obama to secure Democratic Party nomination, his rival Hillary Clinton ran this TV commercial which peddled her credentials for being familiar with the corridors of power.
It’s 3 AM and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing.
Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call…
Hillary’s original ad:
Obama’s official response:
There were various unofficial spoofs created by Digital Natives who love to play with new media tools. Just run a search for ‘3 am’ or ‘red phone’ on YouTube and you can watch many of these online!
By the way, isn’t it time that the old-fashioned Red Phone in the White House – the American President’s Hotline to save the world – was replaced with a more modern looking instrument? One more thing for the New Media President Obama…