Connecting the Dots of the Obama Phenomenon

No offense intended, but I do not normally look to Roger Cohen, the older New York Times/ Herald Tribune columnist in Paris, to give insights about the power of social networks and connectivity. Yet his recent column on “The Obama Connection” did just that. In fact, it starts:

It’s the networks, stupid.

More than any other factor, it has been Barack Obama’s grasp of the central place of Internet-driven social networking that has propelled his campaign for the Democratic nomination into a seemingly unassailable lead over Hillary Clinton. Her campaign has been so 20th-century. His has been of the century we’re in.

Cohen goes on to make more analytical points based on the flow of history, and how the world is shifting from the paradigm of the divisive Cold War that defined the last century to the new paradigm of hyper-connectivity and sociability. His own insights stay on that historical geo-political plane, rather than at any tactical, or certainly technical level.

Along the way he cites the work of others who have helped him understand this meta-shift going on – starting with Joshua Green in the most recent Atlantic Monthly. Josh did do a fantastic job in explaining the fundraising phenom behind Obama, by going to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area in general and reporting on that untold story. I helped Josh with that story and highly recommend it to anyone. Check it out here.

Cohen also references a new book by David Singh Grewal called, “Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization” that describes the core tension in the world as: “Everything is being globalized except politics.” I have not read the book yet, but I have been talking about similar themes for awhile. In the tech, business, private sector world where I came from before getting involved with the New Politics Institute three years ago, the globalization of everything is the key phenomenon reworking everything. Yet from what I can see, our politics is only barely beginning to adapt to this. Perhaps, as Cohen says, Obama can help change that in a big way.

There is one other book that I would also highly recommend to anyone trying to come to terms with the new world of social networks: Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations.” Clay does a terrific job of explaining in plain language the power of social networking in its broadest sense. Too many people think “social networking’ simply means Facebook and MySpace. That is an extremely narrow way to understand what’s happening – one that Clay will help correct. The better way to think about all this is as a wide range of social tools or social media that acts very differently than media as we have known it. It’s about communications and content and media and all things that get passed around and are collectively worked on and commented on and recommended or just viewed from afar.

I’ve been telling journalist friends of mine to read Chapter 3, “Everyone is a Media Outlet” to really understand what is happening around them in the big picture. Clay makes the best explanation about what is happening to the journalism and news business that I have ever seen. For that and many other reasons, check it out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute