The Internet is remaking our world in too many ways to keep track of. Facebook and other social networking sites are reshaping the way we interact with each other. E-mail and all the various forms of instant messaging have laid a major hurt on the U.S. Postal Service. Sites like Craigslist have made conventional classified advertising all but obsolete, delivering a crushing financial blow to the newspaper industry.
But when it comes to political campaigning, the Internet is in its infancy. Television is still king. For how long is anybody's guess, but as of today candidates for most offices need to be on TV. If they're not, they have no chance. Internet electioneering is growing and changing by the day, and its potential is vast, but it's not what decides elections in the here and now.
One can easily imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when that will change. Both of my parents passed away without ever having so much as turned on a computer. They never owned a cell phone, either. Once their generation is gone and is replaced and then some by ultra-tech savvy children of our computer-geek children, it is easy to imagine a time when most if not all election campaign messages will be beamed directly to whatever hand-held personal electronic devices come to be in vogue. It is not hard at all to imagine the Internet doing to the television industry what it already has done to newspapers.
If the Internet remains free and open, it has the capacity to revolutionize politics. It could put an end to the transactions that both define and doom present-day democracy. Everyone knows the drill. Politicians have the power to set government policy, but need to be on TV to win elections and that air time costs a fortune. Those who can afford to put the politicians on TV need those politicians to clear the way for them to become richer still. The wealthy donors do their part, the politicians do theirs, and the fee for service is passed along to the TV stations as compensation for getting the politicians into our living rooms morning, noon and night.
Which brings me to why the ruling class in our country is so bound and determined to colonize the Internet. I wrote last week about how the instruments of social control and political manipulation have evolved over our nation's history. It started with slavery and disenfranchisement. That gave way to institutionalized voter suppression and segregation. When those policies largely fell by the wayside, they were replaced by a third stage of ownership that can be summed up as the creation of an exclusive political marketplace where participation is prohibitively expensive for all but an elite few.
The architects of this third stage can see into the future. They can see how the Internet will one day take the place of television as the dominant medium of political communication. And they can see how a truly free and open Internet (or "net neutrality," in the unfortunate vernacular of Webheads) could create an inclusive political marketplace where participation is downright inexpensive. That's why it's so important to them that the information superhighway be transformed from a freeway into a tollroad.