Web-Powered Supercitizens

The New York Times published yesterday an article about how Barack Obama is using social networks not just to raise money but also to communicate directly with citizens. It is a measure of how much many folks on the web believe in Obama as their candidate that he is being now lobbied via the web. Wouldn’t it be exciting if he listened?

But in talking about how politicians use the web to influence citizens, the article neglected to mention how citizens are using the web to influence politics. It has been on my mind lately because of two emails I got in the past 24 hours: one from Matt Lerner, promoting a Digg-style site for voting on the priorities of an Obama CTO. And the other from Ben Elowitz, about a Wetpaint-powered site for mobilizing protest against California’s Proposition 8.

Beyond chattering about gadgets and kitty photos, it seems like Web 2.0 has found a larger purpose. Part of this seems to be a byproduct of the web’s becoming easy enough for anyone to use, and part of it is a function of web-savvy people becoming more politicized.

That’s a big change. As long as I’ve been in technology, “Live free or die” was a UNIX rallying cry, not a political slogan, and the dominant political strain was libertarian. Now Silicon Valley has become a force of elites, like Hollywood, with an active interest in government and outsized ambitions to influence the rest of the world.

Naturally, members of the technology elite view this as a very good thing, the Revenge of the Nerds on a political scale. And I do too. But I also wonder what it means for poor folks and older folks who are less web-savvy — and now maybe less influential.

I also wonder what the next revolution will be like — not the kind talked about in Redfin’s press releases — but one involving protests,  barricades, tear gas and fallen governments, which seems to happen somewhere every few years. It will probably start on Facebook and Twitter.