I caught the second half of Politics Online 2009 yesterday (conference wiki), and presented some of my own work too (thanks to the organizers and to everyone who showed up, it was a very interesting and useful discussion).
The conference was interesting and worthwhile, and involved too many bits and pieces to pull together quickly here, so I’ll just offer one more general observation.
There seems to be a similar logic at play amongst both practitioners and academics working with new information and communication technologies and their role in political processes, namely a somewhat problematic polarization of the conversation.
One set of quite vocal people have more or less bought the idea that everything has changed, and thus very reasonably focus a lot of their energy on all the new stuff. They therefore have a lot of ideas, observations, and data, and they are not afraid to speak up (in both academia and amongst professionals attention is, after all, a valuable thing).It would be easy to call these people believers. A subset are true believers…
Another set of people remain highly skeptical of the idea of a general change, still thinking of online elements et al as neutral tools to be used in politics as usual. These people rarely show to conferences like Politics Online 2009, and even if they did, negative findings rarely lend themselves to interesting presentations, so I wonder how much play they would get. I could call these people skeptics, and a subset would be luddites.
Then there is the remaining group, in between, something that strikes me as a majority both in the academy and amongst professionals, people who have not made up their minds to join either of the two camps, and are more comfortable voicing their confidence and doubts in one-on-one conversations than as speakers, and who are therefore neither visible voices nor conspicious by their absence. Let’s call them doubters.
Events like Politics Online, and its academic equivalents, serve one purpose very well, pushing mainly the conversation internally in the first group of believers, and shedding some much-needed light on everything new, but I am still looking for events dominated neither by the believers or even by the the last group of skeptics, but entertaining a substantial and fact-based three-way dialogue of some sort.