I’ve been thinking about the exosystem ring of ecological theory, which includes major systems that we interact with but don’t have control over. These large systems have direct influence and impact in our lives, and include: the tax, health care, and governmental and political systems. Everyone’s favorite things!
The more I thought about these large systems, the more I realized just how much stress and confusion they often cause. The challenge with big systems is anyone navigating their pathways is just a small piece of the larger entity—and often times, as consumers or users, we get lost in the shuffle. It’s frustrating! I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who hasn’t been frustrated at some point in their lives with the tax, health care, and governmental/political systems.
Usually, we see technology tools pop-up to help us navigate these systems. Below, I’ll explore my recent experience with the American governmental/political system when I voted in the primary election last week.
Exosystem Exploration: American Government and Politics
This past Tuesday, 14 states in the U.S. voted in what’s known as the “Super Tuesday” primary election. One of those states was California, so I was interested in the election. While there were a few state and local ballot measures, the main event was the presidential primary election.
The most basic tech: snail mail, text messages, and phone calls
Starting a few months ago, I received information in the mail about the election—mostly from the California state government about voting rights, what was on the ballot, and voting location. So things started off with one of the more antiquated of technologies: snail mail. I appreciated the sample ballots, which directed me to the candidates and measures I’d need to make decisions about.
The next layer of tech were the phone calls and text messages I received from democratic candidates—so many text messages! I’m registered as a democrat so I reasoned this was why I was being pestered by people representing Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. Oddly, I didn’t hear anything from the Joe Biden camp.
I found this use of tech—incessant phone calls and text messages—to be very annoying and not at all useful. Of course the presidential candidates are going to campaign and try to persuade me to their cause. But they’re not an impartial source of information, so that’s not helpful for me in trying to make a decision on a candidate.
Media tech: TV, newspapers, magazines, and the good old internet
I don’t often watch the news on TV, or consume any mainstream media like newspapers or magazines. This is a recent decision over the past year or so. I find news media tends to skew things negative to garner attention and this leaves me feeling pretty bummed out about the world. So I look for more nuanced takes from individuals who have their own blogs or newsletters. I’m not heavily invested in politics, though, so I haven’t yet found a good source for American government and political happenings. If you know of a good source, please let me know!
However, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on Twitter lately, and while I don’t run in very political circles, my feed started to include tweets about various political issues. Again, mostly about democratic candidates—with a focus on Elizabeth Warren vs. Bernie Sanders.
Similar to how I felt about the text messages, most people on Twitter were campaigning for their chosen candidates, so there was no real education or dialogue. I didn’t find this very useful for informing my own decisions. Not to mention, no one was talking about the Oakland specific ballot measures, so I had to look further afield.
I took to the world wide web, researching the democratic presidential candidates and local ballot measures. This experience wasn’t great—there’s just so much information out there! I quickly became frustrated. With no shortage of websites and sources of information about the issues and candidates, I found myself uncertain about how to analyze the information. In order to make an educated decision, I wanted to select information outlets that were providing quality information.
Ultimately, I found a number of local sites sharing information about the city and state ballot measures—these did the trick for providing info and sharing the pros and cons of the issues. But for the presidential candidates—I was really at a loss. And found myself texting a friend instead of using the internet to educate myself. I chatted with my best friend Erin who is aligned politically and more involved in contemporary political discussions. Erin helped me parse through the information I had and ultimately to make a decision I was comfortable with.
Is this the best we can do with tech x American government and politics?
The whole experience of educating myself and making decisions about political candidates and ballot measures left me feeling tired. I wish there was a better way to stay informed, and connect with others for reasonable dialogue on these important topics.
The biggest challenge was filtering the salient information from all of the noise. Unfortunately, technology isn’t doing me any favors—in fact, tech is making a mess by giving everyone a mouthpiece so they can have a voice. With everyone squawking about their preferred candidates through phone, text, websites, Twitter, and beyond—what’s the best way to work with all of this information? Am I missing new tools where people are actually educating each other and engaging with voters?
I’m looking for a new tech tool addition to the exosystem: a trusted entity to help people like me organize, vet and analyze all of the political information. I think there’s room for technology to provide a framework around all of this governmental and political information. What would this look like?
I envision a tool that allows me to select the issues that are important to me, and will present relevant information to help me form my own opinions on political and governmental matters. This tool would also connect me with others who are interested in engaging in civil discourse about the issues we care about.
What’s missing right now in the government, political and media exosystems is putting the consumer at the center. All of our current tooling is about disseminating information—what about giving people tools to consume information in a more sustainable, meaningful way? We’re probably a ways off from this kind of reasonable tech. For now, I can dream.
I’d love to hear from you—what was your experience with the presidential primary election, or with elections in general? How do you decide on which candidates to vote for, presidential or otherwise? Have you used any apps to help with understanding political candidates and political processes?