Saturday, 23 October 2010

And Another Thing... Future Forward

In many ways, the successful Facebook campaign to elect Rage Against the Machine UK Christmas Number One was the ideal coda to 2009. This was, after all, the year of the technological revolution. It saw Barrack Obama inaugurated as the first President of the United States to be elected through internet campaigning and fundraising, while in Iran pro democracy rallies were organised via Twitter. In the UK, social networking came into its own with instant campaigns launched against bad journalism in The Guardian and the Daily Mail. In fact, 2009 was as much the year of technological evolution as revolution. The year technology moved away from being a force for apathy and became a tool for social change.

Catching up over Christmas and New Year, it was amazing to discover how many people I knew had actually bought ‘Killing in the Name’ on download. Even those who didn’t admitted it was only because download technology baffles them. The British media was typically cynical of the campaign. It’ll never work, they said. It’ll make no difference and anyway, Sony owns the rights to both singles, so Simon Cowell wins either way. They seemed to have missed the point. They always do.

Like the protestors on the streets Seattle and London and Copenhagen, people bought ‘Killing in the Name’ over X-Bot 0.8 for a variety of reasons. Partly it was good old British belligerence, the chance to knock the wind out of X factor and it’s vacuous, self absorbed panel of experts (with “experts” in inverted commas slightly bigger than the observable universe). What the media failed to appreciate is that programs like X-Factor are self perpetuating, existing solely to generate income for companies and individuals that are already far too bloated and pompous. For them to persevere they need to be seen as omnipotent and invincible.

Bringing an end to X-Factor’s four year domination of the Christmas number one spot may seem like a small victory, but its implications are far wider. This Christmas you can count on there being three or four challengers, which may divide the anti X-Factor vote, but they will also likely split the X-Faction. Most people at most times act like sheep, they vote for the likes of X-Factor because in a life that is largely unfulfilling they want to feel part of something successful. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. Failure is a deeply unattractive quality and if we can knock this year’s winner down to number four or five, 2010 will be the X-Factor’s final year. Good riddance.

Simon Cowell, one of the most vain and truly unpleasant people on the planet, says he wants to do a political version of X-Factor. He’ll fit in well. Again, the media bemoan the fact that more people vote for the likes of X-Factor and Big Brother than vote in general elections, but in reality they are far more alike than is generally acknowledged. X-Bot A or X-Bot B, Tory or Labour, Obama or McCain, the same ruling elites ultimately win.

Whoever profits from ‘Killing in the Name’ reaching the top spot is irrelevant. As 2009 showed, technology and social networking allow the majority to wrestle back the reins of power from the oligarchs who have hitherto owned our planet. We should be under no illusion that the result of this year’s Christmas number one contest resonates wider than the music and betting industries. I imagine its implications being discussed in hushed tones in the halls of Westminster. The result is a hammer blow in favour of democracy and for the reclaiming of public spaces back from private corporations who seek to own our very souls. Yet they have created the weapons of their own destruction.

X-Factor, Big Brother, the Facebook campaign etc., all demonstrate one important conclusion: People are far more likely to participate in ‘democratic’ processes if it is made no more difficult than pressing an on-line button or sending a text message to a premium rate phone line. With enough safeguards put in place, there is no reason why the process of electoral voting cannot be devolved to the internet, with ballot cards containing unique network keys. There would be abuses, sure, but plenty of abuse goes on in the present system anyway. Moreover, we do not live in a democratic society, but under a system of elective representation, which is a very different thing. Virtual networking changes this, with key referendums able to be held online. Finally, to establish a fairer, more equitable society, we need to move away from the tradition of party politics, which has failed us time and again, and elect more independent members of parliament. If we can beat the somnambulistic dirge of some primetime, Saturday night ITV show, using a seventeen year old song, with no advertising and no physical release, then imagine what we could do if we set our minds to something serious. 2009 saw the relevance of technology finally shift into first gear. Bring on 2010: Let’s not lose the momentum.

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