I am not a Mac user. But I'll freely admit I had one of my monitors refreshing with MacRumorsLive's coverage of the Steve Jobs WWDC keynote, with an audio feed from Moscone West running in the background. When it comes to operating systems, I am a swing voter. Heck, I even identify a little with the poor PC guy in the ads, and think the Mac guy is a smarmy little twerp. Nonetheless, I'm thinking of casting my first "vote" for a Mac in 2008. It's not that I dislike my Windows system. Every other PC I've had has been badly outrun by the combination of bloatware outrunning the memory allocation, but not this one. I have my XP tuned the way I like it, but it's a lame duck. It's the unfortunate fact of an uninspiring new standardbearer, Vista, has me seriously thinking about switching to the Cult of Steve.
But it's not only that. The sheer gravitational pull of the Mac / iPhone / iPod halo is simply too much. It's irrational. I see lots of friends switching to Macs and tapping away on iPhones. It was different back in the early '90s back when Mac was this goofy platform you couldn't extend with a clunky black and white GUI. Or even last year when those suckers stood in line to shell out $600 for a buggy, locked down phone. But for me, this July 11th will be a different story.
Doesn't this remind you a little of the current political climate?
This will indulge a little in the Mac vs. PC stereotype as applied to politics, but I'll take it a little further.
Obama is the shiny new Jobsian creation that can do no wrong, word of which spreads like wildfire among the wired.
Traditional campaigns are the aging, once invincible Microsoft regime. That's Hillary -- and I'm afraid, John McCain.
The old, implausible, not-gonna-happen John Sculley-era Apple was the panoply of failed "reform" candidates -- Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Bill Bradley, and Howard Dean. There's a reason they called them "Atari Democrats." You don't hear much about Atari anymore.
At the Presidential level, I am not a swing voter. But I see the same halo effect that I think many swing voters are feeling. The Obama crowds are a big, big deal. Six million email addresses and 1.5 million volunteers is a big, big deal. I love Obama's website just like I love Apple's. I love the insider, behind the scenes videos that conventional campaigns would never think about doing. Little things like the fist bump humanize the guy and create the illusion that he's 20 years younger than he actually is.
Whatever we many think of Obama, his marketing has been exceptional.
None of this is enough to make me want to vote for Obama, but you have to be concerned about what the true swing voter is experiencing. Thronging crowds vs. green backdrops... OS X Leopard vs. Vista...
A number of pundits have begun to grapple with the question of why Obama succeeded where the Atari Democrats and their successors failed. All plausible explanations revolve, in one way or another, around the net.
Marc Ambinder says it's the transparency and the creation of an online feedback loop that made supporters feel connected to one another and the campaign:
One, by direct feedback, including repeated, informal contacts from the campaign letting them know precisely what their time and money was doing and how it was actively changing the system. (Joe Trippi, in 2004, was on to this when he would put up that big red bat and watch as it filled with donations.)
Two: By personal touches. One of the best ways that MyBO.com helped to counteract the sense of collective anonymity in campaigns was by linking folks of like minds together, sometimes by geography but mostly by affinity groups, much like the Republican National Committee did so successfully in 2004. A key subconcept here is ownership. Through the campaign, volunteers were given ownership responsibilities over particular slices of the electorate – a list of people to persuade, a tranche of activists to mobilize.
Micah Sifry looks at the structure Obama has built and how it will continue if Obama wins:
Here's what Obama says about his thinking: "One of the things that I'm really proud about this campaign," he told an audience in Indianapolis on April 30, "is that we've built a structure that can sustain itself after the campaign." He then talks about how he won so many states, including states like Idaho. It was because of volunteers, he says, "they built the campaign." We didn't originally have big plans for Idaho, he tells his listeners, "but people made this structure."
Fifteen years ago, it was harder for cult phenonema to spread. Mainstream media erected barriers around content, and there just wasn't that much of it to go around. Yes, your friend or relative may have owned a Mac, but nothing in mainstream culture reinforced their recommendation. Your exposure to political media was limited to a seven minute evening news segment and the newspaper -- nothing like the 24-hour information buffet that exists today. That wasn't a lot of room for upstarts to build up a head of steam.
Today, consumers can self-select their media. It doesn't matter that a relatively small percentage actually do. It's the passion within that small, energized core of users that matters. These small groups make for more interesting stories that wear down the ranks of the previously passionless and unaffiliated by attrition, just like everyday there seemed to be fewer Clinton supporters than the day before, and there are fewer PC users.
In the past, it's not that guys like Gary Hart never caught on. They did. And Democrats have nominated insurgents before. But it feels different this time, and it is.
What the Internet has done is create a commons for the insurgents to organize on day one. The existence of a dedicated channel feeding the grassroots as if by umbilical cord massively reinforces the group's commitment level and allows it to attract new followers. And though a national candidate like Obama might have made it big in another era, I'm not sure a niche candidate like Ron Paul would have found his constituency without the Internet.
We may be entering an era in which political insurgents, or at least those with the capacity of inspire the energized core, are now institutionally advantaged relative to frontrunners. The advantages that establishment candidates can bring to bear are atrophying, largely because they fail to inspire a sense of urgency in the increasingly powerful activist base. The endorsements and the high dollar bundlers send a clear signal to the grassroots: you're not needed. That might not have mattered when the grassroots was powerless, and usually only an extension of the campaign volunteer operation. But when the grassroots is self-directed and empowered by the network, it's a big, big problem when you're running as the "inevitable" candidate a la Hillary Clinton.