Thursday, October 23, 2008

An illusion of interactivity

It is argued that much of the supposed interactivity offered by political parties is illusory. We see opportunities to participate, invitations to send emails etc, we see the outcome of participation but what we seldom see is actual participation taking place or get the chance to do so. So while we can send an email we may never get a response or we hear of consultation but are unsure who actually took part. If you are cynical it can be assumed that there is a language of listening and participation but this is purely window dressing for a business as usual elitist political system.

I raise this in response to a curious live chat event advertised for 1.30pm today with Yvette Cooper Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I received an email invitation (below) which shows it was actually sent out at 1.35 so I was going to miss the start whatever happened.

I actually followed the link at 1.50 but was surprised to find that it had finished already. 'Yvette', as we assume it was she, told us there were hundreds of questions in, she answered seven which read very much as frequently asked questions on many public service/customer service pamphlets and web pages and then logged off. The dialogue may disappear soon but I give a flavour of it:

Steve Carlington, says: My bank has recently been unwilling to give me the credit I have always received to run my business. The government needs to do something to change this or else I will have no breathing room and things will become really tight and my business will suffer.

Yvette Cooper, says: Hello Steve. I'm sorry you are having such difficulties with your bank. I don't know your particular circumnstances, but we are worried about small businesses gettting hit by the global credit crunch. Mistakes in the international banking system and the fact that banks are still restricting credit are now having an effect on ordinary businesses not just in this country but all over the world. We have set conditions for those banks that are getting help from the government's new recapitalisation scheme, and they have agreed to increase availability of lending to small businesses as a result. Today Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson are also meeting with senior executives of other banks to urge all of them to do more to support businesses at a difficult time. i think its important that if government is stepping in to support the banks, then banks should do their bit to support the rest of the economy too. We are also looking at other ways to support businesses who are having difficulty getting credit to help them through the tougher times.

My question, and it is a question, is this real interactivity, does Steve Carlington really exist and is he really a member of the public? Or is this smoke and mirrors interactivity, an illusion created using the sleight of hand enabled by the internet?


Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know how long Yvette would say the 'chat' lasted for!

It seems that by allowing the public to submit questions prior to the 'chat' it was not in fact live - the 1:30 time appears to be an upload time for her answers to the pre-submitted questions she chose to look at. This could have enabled her to look as though she was answering important questions from the public, when she was actually picking the questions she found easiest to answer with information from her list of key messages.

If there were hundreds of questions submitted, Steve could well be a real person - just one who asked a question that would generate a neatly packaged answer from Yvette.

Jo Bowdery said...

I think it is a shame that the public in general seem to now recognise the problem of ilusionary interactivity when it comes to voting for their favourite X Factor act (you can tell what is on the box in my household at the moment), but that when it comes to politics - an altogether more important area - we are happy to let this go on.

Darren G Lilleker said...

Indeed anonymous, my further worry is that there are certain questions Ms Cooper wanted to answer and either selected the 'public' who asked those questions or created 'Steve' to represent the public to appear interactive.
Perhaps the issue here is that few of the public actually access such things. key questions for me is how many questions are uploaded, who read the answers, did anyone actually see this take place 'live'. With X Factor, strictly, I'm a Celeb etc etc 1,000s - millions tune in to the result and so any aberration is a problem. But if no-one tunes in then it can be described as interaction, that we had the chance' independent of what actually took place.
I did note that the email was late in arriving and that it only went to subscribers, that is two ways of limiting the audience from the start. Why not make it a real event, if you do perhaps then you have a larger audience and have to actually be live. it has been done by Brian Paddick during the London Mayoral election, it is possible, but it is also feared (more on this in Lecture 9 or read the work of Jennifer Stromer-Galley if not in my final yr option)

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