Howard Dean and Emergent Media

In the middle of research for a Wired story about Howard Dean and emergent media. The more I learn about the campaign, the more fascinating I find it. A recent front page story in the Wall Street Journal (reposted here) described the campaign’s Internet success as “a story of desperation, risk and luck.” But I wonder if this characterization is accurate. Sure, risk played a role, and luck, and perhaps desperation also. But there is something missing from this list. If risk, desperation, and luck were main fuel, any candidate could have had equal success – and still could. Perhaps this is true – but perhaps not.

I called Joe Rospars today. He is a twenty-two year old who works full time on the Dean blog. A year ago he was living in Stockholm and posting to his blog, Not Geniuses. On a visit back to the states he caught up with the Dean campaign and was inspired to volunteer. Now, he sits at a desk outside campaign manager Joe Trippi’s office and – among his other tasks – reads thousands of blog comments a day. I asked him the question I’ve been asking other people. Why Dean?

“People imagine we are a traditional campaign with an Internet component grafted on,” he said. “Like we figured out a new cookie to serve at dinner.”

This was the beginning of a long, interesting conversation. The essence of what I am hearing is that the means are the message – that people like Rospers are attracted to the Dean campaign because of the process of the campaign. Is this a trivial reason, like being attracted to a campaign because it has snazzy graphics? I’m not sure that it is. In an interview yesterday, David Weinberger put it this way:

“Democracy is supposed to be about people talking with one another about what matters to them and then organizing to get the things they want. If all you have a is a TV set and a ballot box, that’s a shadow of democracy. He’s unleashed a loyalty that’s not so tightly bound to his positions as it is to the architecture of democracy.”

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