Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"YouTube steals Dem debate"...but what about poor and older people?

Ha! Just as I thought: The YouTube - CNN joint effort to involve the public in the Democratic Presidential candidates debate on Monday night catapulted You Tube into national prominence. Coincidentally, that same night I finally learned to upload a video to YouTube after working on it for hours and hours since last February, as described in yesterday’s post, Gritty determination.

1. How do I know that YouTube will now become a household word (if it isn’t already)? Because I saw these headlines yesterday morning:

1. YouTube steals the Dem debate - The medium and the questions are the message in the San Francisco Chronicle.

2. Public Voice Adds Edge to Debate - Democrats Face Questions from Internet Users in Unorthodox Format, in the Washington Post: "Democratic presidential candidates shared the spotlight Monday night with ordinary citizens from around the country in a two-hour debate that featured sharp and sometimes witty video questions and often equally sharp exchanges among the candidates on issues ranging from Iraq and health care to whether any of them can fix a broken political system.

The debate, co-sponsored by CNN and YouTube, underscored the arrival of the Internet as a force in politics. The citizen-interrogators generated the most diverse set of questions in any of the presidential debates to date and challenged the candidates to break out of the rhetoric of their campaign speeches and to address sometimes uncomfortable issues, such as race, gender, religion and their own vulnerabilities.”

How refreshing! But wait a minute. What about and older people? Are they being shut out?

On Monday I also recall reading the Washington Post article, Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide: “Less than a mile and a half from the Citadel, the site of the Democratic presidential debate tonight, sits Cooper River Courts, a public housing project. Forget the Web. Never mind YouTube, the debate's co-sponsor. Here, owning a computer and getting on the Internet (through DSL or cable or Wi-Fi) is a luxury.

‘I am low-income and computers are not low-income,’ says Marcella Morris, sitting on the front step of her apartment building on a sweltering day last week.”

Not only low-income people but older people, who never felt confident enough to use a computer, much less upload to YouTube, are likely to be excluded in the future digitally-empowered campaigns.

So what’s the solution? I think those of us who have entered the electronic era should remind ourselves not to be too enchanted with how easy it now is to be heard. For starters, let’s remember to spend some time working on getting out the vote and volunteering to drive people who need a ride to the polls. I hope you'll share your ideas with me and others by posting a comment on how to make sure everyone is heard and involved in the voting process.

(photo of obviously poor woman and children - this is a classic from the Depression by Dorthea Lange; photo of older people: Phillips Blogs)


John in Cincinnati said...

Dear Gail,

Your point is well taken and, I suspect, accurate. I prefer to look at it from the perspective that citizen–candidate interaction increased, ergo (small "d") democratic processes were served.

Gail Jonas said...

John from Cincinnati,
Thanks for your comment.

I think using YouTube so that ordinary citizens have an opportunity to ask candidates questions in such a meaningful way (videos seem more effective than phone calls) is a step in the right direction. I'm excited about my opportunities to use YouTube in conjunction with the political projects I work on.

However, I think those of us to have this opportunity to weigh in more effectively ought to keep in mind those who aren't as fortunate.

The big question for me is how do those who are currently "disenfranised" (due to lack of access to information, etc.)feel like they are a part of the voting and political process?

Gail Jonas said...

Correction to second paragraph of my comment: However, I think those of us WHO have this opportunity to weigh in more effectively ought to keep in mind those who aren't as fortunate.

Gail Jonas said...

One more observation:
I don't think YouTube involvement in elections is at the center of the problem with those who don't vote. However, it seems to me people who are too poor to afford a computer or too old to be willing to learn how to use one could feel nudged out when they watch the news on TV about how citizens who have computers and the skills to upload to YouTube appear to have more access to candidates than they do.

John in Cincinnati said...

I think folks who feel disenfranchised will feel more empowered when gov't begins to take more of an interest in them.

John in Cincinnati said...

One of the things we're doing in Cincinnat is attempting to change the nature of the public conversation in a way that's more inclusive. See A Small Group.


Weedgardener said...

For what it's worth, I did not watch the debate on YouTube, figuring that bandwidth would be exceeded by all the other people watching. Instead, I watched it on C-Span yesterday (Tuesday).

Interestingly, the debate wasn't on the C-Span schedule, making me wonder if there was some kind of deal with YouTube allowing C-Span to broadcast the debate but not publicize it. I only saw it because I turned on the TV to see what was on in the missing part of the schedule.

Anonymous said...

Gail, I think each local church or synagogue or school could share their
computer time and space with their local residents. Certainly the church,
synagogue, or school office would have several computers, and the young
folks could teach the old folks or help them make Youtube videos. Ditto for
the public housing projects and the local bars. ML

Anonymous said...

All this access is helpful. What comes out in the YouTube debates will no doubt be reported in the press & wider media if it is worth commenting on. Therefore the old and poor will not be left out.
The poor are seldom involved in politics, the elderly often are.
Remember the maxim: Those who need the government least use it the most (the rich), those who need it the most use it the least (the poor). alt

Charlotte said...

Dear Gail,

There are many sources of free use of computers now and I'm sure these will multiply. The library and senior centers (at least in our town) are two of these.

I understand, however, that it will always be necessary to reach out to people who, by circumstance or design, find themselves out of the loop.