Howard Dean – A Negative Scenario

Now that all the regulars have weighed in, let me throw a monkey wrench into the this emergent system. Thanks to Paul Boutin and Tom Morris for helping me focus my thoughts on this.

Tom Morris is the Web master for Scientists for Dean. Obviously, a Dean supporter. But also a biologist with an interest in computer modeling. When I emailed him to as about scaling and security issues, he responded as an engineer:

Hi Gary, thanks for the note. First, I just need to clarify one point with you. By, ‘scaling,’ do you mean…

1. The inherent behavior of a system (of concurrent systems) changes non-linearly as the system grows or shrinks.
2. The inherent behavior of a system of concurrent systems becomes unpredictable as the overall system grows or shrinks.
3. As some subsystems of a system of concurrent systems grow or shrink disproportionately to other subsystems in the system, the behavior of the overall system becomes unpredictable.
4. As a system of concurrent systems experiences a stream of diverse, dynamic circumstances, subsystems spontaneously sort into an identifiable hierarchy.
5. Nothing like that at all, Tom. Sheesh! Here is what I really mean…

Can you steer me into your particular area of concern? :-)

I thought this mode of questioning was appropriate, and I tried to respond in spirit. In formulating my response, I managed to articulate why I thought admirers of Dean’s Internet strategy might be disappointed in the coming months:

Hi Tom,

I like your clarification system! The areas I am interested in are: Area 1, Area 2&3 (which I would group together), and Area 4 to the extent that this is a feature of the growth of the Dean campaign.

System 1 = The Internet component of the Dean campaign.
System 1a = Blog/email/Web component
System 1b =Meetup component
System 2 = Mainstream Media communication component
System 3 = Polling component
System 4 = Fundraising component
System 5 = Institutional component (Seeking/getting endorsements and support from well established collective actors – unions, DNC, etc.)

Area 1 refers to the changes to be expected in the Internet component of the campaign as it grows. Imagine 1000 blogs instead of about 100 – 10,000 comments per day instead of 2000. Then double these numbers again. Does this product a qualitative change? Or does it simply get larger?

Area 2&3 refers to the changes to be expected in the Internet component of the campaign (System 1) as the overall campaign grows. Growth of the campaign will also shift the relative importance of each component in relation to the others. This is a system whose components interact complexly. Growth in System 1 produces growth in System 2 and 4 in the early phase of the campaign; but spikes in System 2 have created spikes in System 1 since the beginning, also. Part of the logic of the system at first was that the energy contained in erratic spikes in System 2 could be used to power more steady and sustainable upward movement in System 1. But the power of a sustained burst in System 2 (which is almost certainly on the way), will change this relationship, driving System 4 and 5 and perhaps, if System 2 grows enough, making System 1 seem like a redundant component.

The possible changes in System 1 produced by the growth of System 1 (more and more comments on more and more blogs, a fragmentation of attention, less personal investment in any one discussion space leading to increased vulnerability to trolls) combined with disproportionate growth of System 2, could lead to a completely new campaign dynamic than we have seen so far.

In other words, the Internet phase is over.

This is just a scenario, mind you. But this afternoon Paul Boutin called me and suggested some links:

Andrew Orlowski’s Story on Googlewashing

Michael Wolff’s Comparison of Dean’s Internet to McGovern’s Direct Mail

And of course the Pew Internet Report: few people read blogs.

Wolff’s piece gleefully ignores the obvious differences between Internet organizing and direct mail, and he makes much of Dean’s non-electability, which is clearly a weapon in the hands of interested parties, but his distinction between the logic of an early phase of an insurgent campaign and the logic of a national election is consonant with scenario I offered to Tom. This has not gotten much attention yet in Deanspace.

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