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     Volume 11 |Issue 45| November 16, 2012 |


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The Power of Technology

Shah Husain Imam

The role of technology in the Obama victory has created history. Ten dollar bill across-the-board fund raising in Obama campaign strategy passed for an innovative clincher in the 2008 US presidential race against Republican candidate MacCaine. But that looks like child's play before the sophisticated social media coming into play – thanks to Obama campaign managers who brought it to scientific perfection and artistic finnese unknown in the history of US elections.

The poll day gradually built into an emotional crescendo as Twitter and Facebook kept constant company with the voters in a mind reading persistent, persuasive incantation to go out and vote. Finally, Twitter and Facebook outrivaled TV networks in breaking the news of Obama victory.

Indeed, as Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina told the News Week as far back as in January "Our efforts on the ground and on technology will make 2008 look pre-historic." And so it did with a resounding success.

If many appearances particularly in swing states and the mileages covered by respective candidates were any measure of their mass contacts in sheer quantitative terms, this time it was more of automation and sustained use of technology that made the difference. But in all of these, human element was key to unprecedented perseverance, persistence and persuasiveness with the voters towards a common end. Never imposing, always appealing to the electorate, President Obama himself worked on a popular site which 'allows users to rank posted information according to whether they like it or not'. The matter was delicately handled to play into the voters' disposition and mood.

Photo: AFP

The victor's last-ditch plea for more votes contrasted with Romney sending a general tweet out early evening on Tuesday to his followers and then staying put thereafter.

The Obama team even reminded voters 'to stay in line even if polling stations had officially closed' – that is the stuff of which Obama's stealing a march over his rival was made.

Social media, for good or evil, is a force to reckon with. The Arab Spring for long rustling like autumn leaves had been originally the handiwork of Facebook and blogging generations. Literally, a revolution swept through the Arab-North African Crescent by virtue of social media bonding. People surged against authoritarian forces, a new kind of upheaval which the ruling regimes had no answer for.

The Tehrir Square revolution may have secured the removal of a despotic Mubarak regime and triggered similar downfall elsewhere of authoritarian rule but then the outcome has largely belied the original expectations of the revolutionaries. The case in point is Islamic Brotherhood and Salafist combination emerging in leadership position in Egypt through a much-trumpeted national election. Now a debate is raging on how close to the Sharia law the government should be running. At the other pole, what remains of the revolutionary cadre is clamouring for separation of religion from politics and statecraft. The thunder from progressive ideals has been hijacked because of lack of directional stewardship.

Occupy Wall Street movement or its variants of 1 percent versus 99 percent upheaval were jelled through social media communication but were to soon run out of steam – thanks again to leaderlessness.

From being an electoral tool through catalysing upheavals to defense site hacking, interloping facebook trickery in Ramu, petty voucher and food stamp frauds and currency counterfeiting, the power of technology is limitless both in its virtues and vices. The old fashioned discretion remains the better part of valour even to this day.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012