The American presidential election is in full swing. I've been living in Seattle since January 2000 and I've been witnessing this strangest of American pastimes first hand. Much like their professed love for baseball, Americans generate a lot of hoopla but voter turn out always seems to scrape new lows.
Americans avoid the ballot box like university students avoid a Canadian Literature course offered on a Friday morning. One reason given for voter apathy is there's simply too much choice. Granted there's no meaningful choice in terms of presidential candidates but when an American steps into a voting booth, he/she faces a bewildering choice of votes on judges, sheriffs, tax increases, and all manner of laws.
Americans love the principle of direct democracy but you have to make it easy for them. I think if I wanted to make a million dollars, I'd register the web address "oneclickdemocracy.com" and wait for a future bidding frenzy for the name. I can foresee a time when voting not only moves online but a site like oneclickdemocracy.com lets a voter click a single Vote Now! button and the site automatically casts ballots for politicians and issues matching the user's Myers-Briggs personality type stored in a browser cookie.
Yeah scary but then I guess some figured it was scary to extend the vote to people who owned less than 10 acres of land and had assets valued under 900 gold sovereigns.
I think when it comes down to it, Americans love opinion but prefer to let others do the dirty work of generating actual ideas. Having been online for over a decade and having taken part in all manner of message board discussions, it's the rare few that can cobble together something that would be recognized as an informed, reasoned idea.
For the idea-challenged-but-opinionated type there's a growing collection of sites that eerily resemble my one-click democracy project. The vote.com site presents the user with a huge list of topics and lets one comment by means of a simple yes/no vote. Need to sound off on such pressing issues as defibrillators on passenger trains or casting decisions on the Harry Potter movie? You're no longer a lone voice in the wilderness. The idea is these votes are tallied and then forwarded to the proper legislators or authorities.
Well maybe they pay attention.
If defibrillators are not a concern of yours and you want to conduct your own poll, FreeVote.com lets you create a "voting booth" on any topic you're interested in. Luckily there can only be one voting booth for the question of best Star Trek movie. The site confirms the Even Rule of Star Trek films. Even numbered Trek films are good. Odd numbered Trek films suck. The top four rated films are 2, 4, 6, and 8. Of course, a peak at the booth on Beethoven symphonies confirms the opposite. Beethoven always seemed to nail his odd numbered works.
The most disturbing of these voting sites is a pair of personal photo rating sites. There's Hot or Not, RateMyPicture.com and RateMyFace.com. You throw up your picture and some biographical data along side other fellow narcissist. Users come along, view your picture, and rate you on a scale from 1 to 10.
Now this is all well and good if you're voted into the top 10, but dare you consider the possibility you will end up at the other end of the scale? Most of the users of these sites are underage teenagers. There should be some obvious warning of possible psychological damage from use. Does it do a 15-year-old teenage girl any good to discover 3,000 netizens have voted her a solid 2 on the looks scale? I can only see future lawsuits...
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Copyright 2002 Karl Mamer
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