Steve Harrelson represents District 1 in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He’s also Majority Leader of the Arkansas House. And he also writes a very comprehensive Arkansas politics blog called “Under the Dome.” This, to me, is a kind of fascinating development that potentially has a lot of promise for state and local officials who don’t necessarily have big staffs. So I was glad to see that yesterday at DLC’s National Conversation he was one of the panelists on a “breakout session” for state and local elected officials talking about “new social media.”
Unfortunately, it seemed that there was virtually no interest in this from the audience. All anyone wanted to talk about was fear about what might go wrong on the internet. Could one of my kids write something on their Facebook page that embarrasses me? What if I become the victim of unfair attacks from anonymous people writing online? What about journalistic standards? Wither truth? The whole litany of internet-related fears. And I think you have to admit that these concerns have at least some validity. With any new significant technology you have your pros and your cons, your positive developments and some negative ones. But to me it’s just fundamentally crazy to look at the brilliant new communications tools of the internet and primarily see something to be frightened of rather than new opportunities to take advantage of.
The good news, I suppose, is that at least as far as elected officials are concerned we should see a Darwinian process. Harrelson and others who start thinking about what new things they can do to communicate and connect with people should see more and more success, while those who want to recoil in fear will see less and less. But this also speaks to a real potential opening for institutions — state and local government has enormous weight as a whole, and I suspect that whichever party or ideological tendency acts first to develop programs to make its people comfortable with new technologies and its possibilities can secure a real advantage.