The New Internet Democracy

Image: Gap logos
Paul Sakuma / AP & GAP

Which GAP logo do you like better? Don’t think your opinion doesn’t matter. Six months ago, in what is now old news, GAP changed its traditional logo but reversed course after encountering an outpouring of opposition. MSNBC called the response anything from “wondering” to “buzz” to “outrage.”

The new internet democracy is a force to be reckoned with.

We the public can now make our voices heard with unpredecented volume, scope, and immediacy. It is not only the representatives of the people who speak, but the people themselves.  The online democracy is a party-less government, but like any democracy it has its popular personalities and overarching values.

We’ve been given exponentially increased opportunities for awareness, for making our voice heard, for gathering support or expressing opposition. And we have a newly-minted standard of cool: viral, which is basically frenzied, flash-in-the-pan, you’ve-gotta-see-this-now-but-tomorrow-it’ll-be-old-news popularity. The new GAP logo didn’t please the masses, and the masses were able to say so loudly and immediately.

People have been trying to figure out the internet for decades now, and new technologies keep us all guessing as to what the next (unseen) developments will mean for society, relationships, economics, marketing, religion, politics, and power.

Even so, a number of principles seem clear enough. The online democracy has tremendous power and potential. The online democracy will always be loud but will not always be right. The online democracy will tend to be reactionary due to the very nature of the medium. And the online democracy stands on values that we should know and evaluate.

At the end of the day, everything viral is a vote. A vote on what’s valuable, a vote on what matters, a vote on what’s relevant, a vote on what we’ll embrace into the center of our collective value system and what we’ll dismiss to the margins of irrelevance. Evidence for this fact is found in the simple filter most of us now use when looking for a YouTube clip with multiple postings: click on the one with the most hits.

In GAP’s previously-silent online democracy, tradition defeated ingenuity, and the backseat shouting forced the drivers to change course. The passengers said, “This is what matters; this is what we’ll accept; and this is what we’ll reject.” So who’s the driver now?

Of course, to Solomon, this dynamic would’ve been business as usual. He understood that there is nothing new under the sun. Clients and consumers have always driven the direction of business and even the values of a community; the internet democracy is just the most recent form of electoral society to try its hand. But who can deny that it’s been a game-changer?

This should remind us of the ever-present need to think carefully about what’s valuable, what matters, what we’ll consider cool, and what will earn our attention. To stand by passively in this kind of age is simply intellectual and spiritual disaster. Our attentions and our affections should be earned, not just yanked from us by every passing fad.

As we play our role in the ever-broadening internet democracy, we should cast our votes carefully. Because one day, coming very soon, what matters will no longer be up for a vote. But how we voted will matter more than ever. On that day we will no longer use our votes to pass judgment. But our votes will be used to judge us.


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