The Internet has sped up history but not the embracing of coalition’s grand ideals.
With the country weaving in and out of parliamentary crisis and the prospect of a new, cross-party government, the Internet should have been a buzzing marketplace of new, progressive ideas this week.
Instead, coalition websites mustered instantaneous by-the-numbers reactions. The mechanics of a coalition were on display, but little else.
As the U.S. found out in its last election, the Internet can be a tool to power progressive politics. But we seem not to have grasped that it is only a tool. Ideas, inspiration, change - these are not born out of searchable databases.
So besides adding the word "prorogue" to my vocabulary, nothing much changed in my life: I live in the same apartment, listen to the same music off the same iPod Touch and hold the same belief that the current Canadian government is nothing more than a place-holder for something better to come.
It's disappointing, but what did I expect? That the House of Commons could be updated as if it were some MySpace page?
That's precisely what many believed: Pro-coalition sites, Facebook groups, online protests, e-petitions, e-mail campaigns, cut-and-paste talking points and all kinds of other Web activism sprouted up in no time at all, demanding an instantly better government.
But those sites failed to convince or motivate the Canadian public to join in. Coalition sites were content to make a statement without engaging potential supporters. And it was naive to assume that people would suddenly join up for transformational change when that change had yet to be identified.
The coalition policy planks, meanwhile, were on the table: the green economy, building city infrastructure, economic stimulus, to name a few. But those points were muted online. Coalition sites were organizational rather than visionary, assertive rather than interactive.
The Internet was the opportune place to outline an ambitious blueprint to build a Canadian utopia. But it was filled with blog posts on the finer details of a bailout and petitions for confidence motions. Hardly enough to captivate a single reader, let alone an entire nation.
Of course, there's nothing immediately wrong with grassroots organizing online, but coalition sites were missing fundamentals of change: where were the grand ideas? The inspiration? The evidence that the coalition could guide this country and its citizens to better standing in the world? Adding my name to a Facebook group did nothing to address any of that. Because this crisis unfolded in the span of a week, with news and rumours whipping around the Internet at breakneck speed, the Canadian public expected a resolution in the same amount of time.
This was unreasonable but not unusual. The Internet has essentially sped up history. News is delivered in the blink of an eye, and the public reacts within another blink. Often, that reaction is hasty.
In this case, a rushed response served to trivialize the coalition's own intentions. Online, a Liberal-NDP alliance was about a Liberal-NDP alliance rather than about new direction for the country.
For phone bills and tax receipts, quick response via the Internet has been a hugely positive development. In matters of politics, not at all.
There is no Internet shortcut to peace, order and good government.