Bruce Bimber Posits that the Effects of Changes in Information are resulting in a Change in
Bruce Bimber Posits that the Effects of Changes in Information are resulting in a Change in Political Form
For a long time, political scientists have emphasized the importance of the information or media to politics. Of key interest is the intermediary function that causal mechanisms like the declined transaction costs, homophilous sorting, and preference falsification play between aspects of the information media and political outcomes. Accordingly, the attempt to explain these causal relationships has invoked present debates over how changes in information and media affect political institutions. For instance, political scientists are currently engaged in a debate over whether the Internet as a key information vessel aggravates polarization in the United States, and whether social media facilitated the Arab Spring uprisings in2011. Accordingly, in this discourse, several key scholars have come out strongly in their views about the overall role of information and the media in modeling the political institution or form. Bruce Bimber is one such political scholar. As a political scientist, Bruce Bimber posits that the effects of changes in information are resulting in a change, in political form, producing increasing independence from traditional political and social structures. This paper examines this argument by Bimber against the backdrop of the current US political campaign as well as the views suggested by other political scholars.
In the article, “How Information Shapes Political Institutions” Bimber defines and explains the phenomenon of information regimes. Bimber mentions that information regimes manifest in American political history as epochs of unchanging interactions among information, organization, and democratic structure. Consequently, he describes the structure of an information regime in three ways. Firstly, information regimes are made up of particular dominant characteristics of political information. Secondly, information regimes comprise of a set of opportunities and limitations on the administration of political information that arise from these properties. Thirdly, information regimes take the form of typical political institutions and structures adjusted to those opportunities and limitations (Bimber, 2010).
Still, Bimber defines the correlation between information regimes and information revolutions by explaining how information regimes have been interpolated by information revolutions. According to Bimber, information revolutions are instigated by three main factors including technological developments, economic outcomes, or institutional changes. Subsequently, information revolutions unsettle information regimes by generating new overtures for political communication and the structuring of collective action.
To further disentangle the relationship between information regimes and political form, Bimber describes the three key information regimes present in American history. Notably, the first information regime occurred in the United States due to an information revolution in the course of the Jacksonian democratization. It was founded on the U.S. Postal Service and the American newspaper industry and actualized by the formation of political parties in the mid-nineteenth. The second information regime arose out of the industrial revolution, whereby information became more complex, hence the development of interest-group politics. This regime lasted into the mid twentieth century. The third information regime occurred in the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of broadcasting and television. Indeed, the growth of cable television paved way for contemporary information revolutions centered on the Internet and the worldwide web.
Accordingly, Bimber adequately, describes the present-day information revolution. He expounds that today; technology has increased the complexity of information, making profuse political information and communication available to everyone with enthusiasm and access to acquire it. Pointedly, Bimber states that technological change in the contemporary information regime leads to information abundance, which in turn adds towards post bureaucratic political forms. Moreover, technological advancement has contributed to the paradigm shift from interest-group politics, to issue-group politics to event-group politics.
Essentially, Bimber presents a valid and agreeable case. Factually, in the past two decades technology has revolutionized communication by making it extra pervasive. Particularly, developments in computer and telephone technology have generated an explosion in the ways individuals communicate with each other: through fax, cell phone, text message, e-mail, blog, and social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Consequently, these changes in information and communication have fuelled the democratization of political discourse among societies. For instance, prior to the Egyptian uprising in 2011, hundreds of Egyptians signed into Facebook groups that challenged the status quo and from these interactions, the first group of protesters took to the streets. Television broadcasts of the initial protests led to the increase of the numbers of the protestors. Evidently this shows the power of multimedia in coalescing a message of revolution that cuts across political divides. As such, new forms of information media possess the power to alter the way politics are conducted. New technologies have transformed the character of democratic discourse from political discussion to political deliberation, to political engagement. Again, with reference to the Arab Spring Uprising of 2011, it is clear that new communication abilities serve as catalysts for change in political behavior (Garret, Bimber, De Zuniga, Heinderyckx, Kelly, & Smith, 2012).
Consequently, this assertion then raises the question of how exactly; the contemporary information regime is facilitating changes in political institution. Even though, scholars are divided the application, it is clear that technological determinism drives the changes being witnessed in political institutions. Furthermore, the new communication environment offers an incentive and opportunity to examine existing political systems in new ways, thereby expanding and challenging the societal understanding. Simply, new media have the capacity to change the individual’s thought process about both the implications and the mechanisms of influential political phenomena. Moreover, new media have magnified the agenda-setting role of media, by particularly focusing on bottom-up information flow or agenda setting trends, defined in networked public spheres.
In this regard, Bimber‘s assertion that the contemporary information regime has also facilitated a departure from the traditional political and social structures is valid. Indeed, advanced digital media technology means that political dialogue may take place on various platforms including mobile devices, video, or be entrenched in the opulent social content of social networking sites. An excellent example is the 2008 US election where, Democrats and Republicans used a variety of Social Media strategies, in order to transmit their political messages to a progressively larger Internet audience. In fact, in a recent Digitas survey, sixty percent of social media users expected political candidates to have a social media presence while 40 % mentioned that information available about the candidates on the internet will impact on their voting choices (Steele, 2012). In addition, the efficiency and transparency appeal associated with technology based forms of voting have inclined nations around the world to invest in electronic voting systems. Besides, politics is all about reaching out and connecting with people, to deliver a message and interact, with potential voters. As such new information media have provided a better and rapid way for political candidates, to effortlessly interact, with their followers beyond time confines.
The first presidential debate that happened earlier this month is a reflection of how information changes are influencing changes in politics. Changes in information have been enhanced by technological changes. This is especially because of the changes in information and technology systems. One of the effects of these changes has been the widespread use of the internet. Before the internet, politicians relied on the newspapers, rallies, radio, and television, to reach the voters. This meant that they could not reach a significant number of people, especially those who are in the rural areas. The use of the internet has changed all this, because of its wide coverage (Young, 2012). It has ensured that people do not depend on the recorded messages, but they get the messages in real time. The internet has ensured that people can access information, irrespective of where they are. Unlike in previous years where the people could only access live coverage of the presidential debate through the television, the internet has ensured that people can view the events as they are happening. The internet has also ensured that people can access the information at any place and at any time that they want.
One of the issues that was raised after the debate was the level of accuracy of the facts presented by both candidates during the debate. Many government and non-governmental agencies and organizations deal with ensuring that the politicians provide accurate information during the debate. Even before the candidates finished the debate, these agencies were busy checking the accuracy of their claims, especially where statistics were involved. Previously, only a few people could access such information. However, the internet has made it possible for anyone requiting information to obtain it from various sources. This will ultimately affect the results of the presidential elections. The people do not have to rely on the sole word of their preferred candidates, but they can access more information to help guide them in their decision.
The internet has enabled the creation of social networking tools. This has in turn lessened the distance between the politicians and the people. The social networking sites have provided a channel for the politicians to communicate to the people. The people can respond to their politicians. They can ask questions, criticize, and offer moral support to the politicians. They can also react to the politician’s actions. Many politicians, including the president, have made use of the social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter. As the presidential debate was ongoing, people posted their results on some of these sites. There were many comments on twitter and Facebook. Some people wrote their reactions on their blogs. This shows the changing nature of politics, which has been propelled by the changes in technology.
Previously, before the widespread use of the internet, people did not have a way where they could voice their opinion. Many of them listened to the presidential debate through the television, and reacted as they held discussions among themselves. They turned on the television news where they expected to hear news commentaries, and learn how various analysts and media personnel reacted to the debates. This meant that they only got the perspectives of a few people. Right now, people have a chance of airing their opinion to many people using different channels, and they can even reach their preferred politicians and air their opinions directly to them. For instance, the presidential debate elicited many comments on both sides. One of the social networking sites, twitter, recorded over ten million reactions, as the debates were ongoing (Gaudin, 2012). Because of the changes in technology, the people no longer have to rely on traditional forms of media communication, and traditional structures to deliver their news. The traditional structures are limiting compared to the current structures, because they do not enable the viewers to participate
In conclusion, Bimber is correct in asserting that new forms of information have changed the political institution. The new forms of media have enticing characteristic such as speed, decentralized network systems, transparency and democratized political dialogues, which appeal to the society. Subsequently, in a bid to remain relevant politically; parties and individuals have to adapt to these advancements hence altering the traditional political and social structures.
Bimber, B. (2010). How Information Shapes Political Institutions. In D. Graber, Media power in politics 6th ed (pp. 1-17). Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Garret, R., Bimber, B., De Zuniga, H., Heinderyckx, F., Kelly, J., & Smith, M. (2012). New ICTs and the Study of Political Communication. International Journal of Communication 6, Feature 214–231.
Gaudin, S. (2012). VP debate heated, but doesn’t overwhelm Twitter. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9232321/VP_debate_heated_but_doesn_t_overwhelm_Twitter
Steele, C. (2012, Jan 20). Election 2012: How Social Media Will Convert Followers into Voters. Retrieved Oct 3, 2012, from PCMAG.COM: http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/293078/election-2012-how-social-media-will-convert-followers-into-v
Young, J. (2012). Internet, social media prominent in US presidential race. Voice of America. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/content/internet_social_media_are_prominent_in_2012_presidential_race/1485372.html