I’m at the media140 conference today, and just finished listening to Malcolm Turnbull’s presentation. While I’m not the hugest fan of Malcolm – my political affiliations lie in another direction – I was taken by one of the things he kept coming back to.
It’s not the medium, it’s the message.
While this generated a bit of discontent from the McLuhanites in the audience, I quite liked where he was going with it.
I don’t think he was going for a direct critique of McLuhan – though that certainly needs to happen; McLuhan’s aphorisms get deployed in the most decontextualised, meaningless ways – but he was actually referring to the affordances of different online communication tools.
I’ve never been all that taken with politicians being on Twitter – it’s not a format that encourages in-depth discussion, and defaults to snarky prats slinging insults at the opposing side. Politicians for the most part have to stay on message, and while Turnbull used the issue of gotcha journalism as a dig at the ALP, he has a valid point – politicians often need to give a measured response, not an instant answer. Twitter often feels like someone yelling provocative questions and insults across a crowded room, goading someone to respond. That’s not really the best way to engage with an elected representative.
Turnbull kept coming back to email as the ‘killer app’, which makes sense in an electoral political context. The measured, personal, long form email can engage with a person in a way that a Twitter message cannot – as we start to think more about e-democracy and engagement with our representatives, we shouldn’t discount tried and trusted technologies.