For the Week of December 18, 2006
A-Clue.Com will cease in its present form at the end of the year. That does not mean it will cease, not at all.
A-Clue will become a regular weekly feature of the DanaBlankenhorn.Com blog. It's actually been that way all this year. Most of this past year's Clue essays are already archived there. The main A-Clue site will stay open with the old archives, and links to the rest of my work.
I'm doing this mainly because e-mail is a dieing e-business model, and I don't ever want to be yesterday. I'm also spending several hours each week coding and loading each week's issue, time that could be spent writing.
To celebrate this change I have five essays on the main topics this blog has covered in its decade of e-mail existence, looking mainly at their present and future. First was e-commerce, the original beat here. Next was Moore's Law, then The World of Always-On. Today we go on to Political Cycles, before finishing up with a big Internet Future essay.
As I wrapped up my work on Always-On, it was clear to me that politics would determine whether the work could proceed. And the politics didn't look good.
I have covered the intersection of the Internet and politics since 1996, and by early 2003 I became intrigued with the work being done in Burlington, Vermont by supporters of Howard Dean. I went there in June, with my lovely bride of some decades, and some copies of my Moore's Law book. I warned them that they would soon become a major tourist attraction. I was right.
But events afterward got away from my power to predict. The Scream symbolized a larger problem with the Dean campaign structure. They were unable to scale the intimacy found by early users of their blog. Rather than upgrading the technology they sent a huge crowd of supporters into Iowa, a state that insists on intimacy, and their campaign was treated as an invasion by the locals.
Worse I saw the whole campaign being portrayed on TV as though it were 1968 or 1970. What was done then by various candidates was of no less importance to the media than what was going on in Iraq. Everything was seen through the prism of the earlier time.
This was not what should have happened, I thought. The year 2004 was 36 years removed from 1968, and going back another 36 years brought us to the rise of FDR and the New Deal. I noticed that another 36 years back brought us to the rise of Populism, and another 36 again brought the Civil War into focus.
That pattern, and its failure to replicate in 2004, began to fascinate me. It still does. I finally concluded that, well, people age more slowly today. John Kerry at 63 was in the prime of his life. In the 1968 race he would have been an old man – Richard Nixon turned just 55 that year. The same was true for most of the other figures in that election. They were debating irrelevancies because the past was more relevant to them, and to us, than the present. So the knees jerked, as they had since Nixon's speech writers first coined the term "the silent majority."
But that could not continue to hold. My Uncle John was a young infantryman during World War II, but on a family reunion cruise in the summer of 2004 he was an old man of 80. Kerry and Bush, just like you and I, would go through the same process, and would in time become irrelevant. Besides there were new voters, like my own two kids. My daughter cast her first votes in 2006, but I knew there wasn't much passion in them. Her politics were informed by my own, but not yet formed. Events would inform them.
Events that were yet to come.
I came to realize that political assumptions also age into irrelevancy. New problems, new crises arise for which the assumptions of the past hold no answer, and as I studied past cycles I saw the result was always the same – the government stagnated and become irrelevant. The non-reaction of President Bush to Hurricane Katrina, the complete rejection of global warming and looming environmental catastrophe, it was all of a piece with LBJ and Vietnam, with Hoover and the Depression, with James Buchanan and the looming Civil War.
There is a real crisis before us, one we don't see because we don't have eyes to see it. This encompasses the fate of the whole world, now burning with a man-made fever. The oceans are being poisoned by carbon dioxide, weather patterns are being destroyed by the greenhouse effect, and we are approaching a tipping point from which there is no return but the grave. Al Gore is right, just as the Populists were right in the 1890s, and abolitionists in the 1850s. He is asking the right questions, but they are not being addressed.
How might they be addressed? I saw that in every generation a new medium had emerged to drive popular opinion toward new problems. A mass market book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, led the way in the 1850s. The penny newspapers of Pulitzer and Hearst drove change in the 1890s. The new media of radio and movies were mastered by the New Deal. TV drove the 1960s, and it was the Nixon campaign's successful response to this which made him the future.
And suddenly the whole thing knit together. This medium, the Internet, is just as old as those media were when they were called upon to change politics. The mass market Internet is now 12 years old. Its vocabulary is the media vocabulary of people like my daughter, the people who will face this as the crisis of their lifetimes.
This medium is the answer to the threat, and the values of this medium will determine how we answer the threat, just as the values of TV determined how we answered the 1960s, or radio and movies answered the 1930s.
But how can a medium with millions of choices drive a new consensus? And how will the values of this new medium be used in coming up with answers?
That's the subject of my next book, which I plan to produce using this medium. My new blog, www.danablankenhorn.com, has been the home of a series of essays on the subject, under the heading of political philosophy. The Connexxions project at Rice University, my old school, provides a perfect place to perfect and "publish" the work, including all the media types I need to bring my points home.
And so, to pursue this new project, I decided that some things would have to be let go. This is one of those things. My mind can't go in one direction continuously, so I will continue to publish these Clue essays on my blog, and its feed is available for both newsreaders and e-mail subscription.
My direction is set. But what about the Internet?
You can have every entry from DanaBlankenhorn.Com, including our lead Clues, e-mailed to you from the main blog page. (It's the Feedblitz button in the corner asking for your e-mail address.) What you will receive is a daily e-mail with all of the previous day's entries, plus links.
You can also get the www.DanaBlankenhorn.Com copy in your newsreader by using its subscribe feature
I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Source for ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. This blog too has an RSS feed and e-mail subscription.
I am also the editor Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. So far we have over 2,800 subscribers to its RSS feed. Please visit that blog as well.
Finally I have begun working with Connexxions at Rice University to turn my work on the Internet Political Thesis into a book and college level course.
Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Best of the Week
Jane Tao and a team that includes some UT people have unlocked the structure of the Influenza-A virus. Specifically, they have revealed the crystal structure of a molecule required for its reproduction.
They were only one letter off.
Explosions like Manhattan are happening, and have happened, around the country. That's why so many new ballparks are being built in urban centers, why so many new museums and other attractions are going there. The center, which was once where the offices were, is now where best people are. The offices are now somewhat off-center, often in "edge" neighborhoods with good freeway links.
The Bell monopoly is the most destructive economic roadblock of our time.
How do we accelerate technology?
Trying to improve the nail.
As theories are validated by events, they become ingrained. They become an "establishment," they become asssumptions which cannot adapt when the problems are different, requiring different assumptions.
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is Jimmy Carter.
Clueless is Elizabeth Dole, who decided late last week to run for re-election.
A-Clue.Com is a free email publication, registered with the U.S. Copyright
Office as number TXu 888-819. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com.