Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The All Thing

A subject on NPR’s Talk of the Nation show this afternoon was the internet and its role in politics during the recent general election campaign and what its importance might be going forward. President Obama, for example, will have, as result of his amazing grass roots and internet-assisted election campaign, access to a vast network of supporters and interested parties that he can appeal to directly and motivate to support his initiatives in a way no previous president has had. It makes it possible for the new president to bypass altogether traditional media to get out his message and even bring extraordinary pressure to bear on Congress should they be obstacles to his agenda. This brought to my mind the political system of Dan Simmons' Hyperion universe and made me think that he might have anticipated this developing fusion of technology and democracy in his description of the “All Thing.” More or less the parliament or perhaps lower house congress of the Hegemony of Man in the first two books of this series, the All Thing appears to be a kind of mass-participatory democracy enabled by a sort of super-internet (the World Web) that links all the different planetary populations of the Hegemony and allows them to access directly, with their brains, any information they may want and to participate in All Thing debates. While its operations are not described in great detail in the story, it is evidently a highly responsive and accessible branch of government: CEO Meina Gladstone (CEO being something like a prime minister in this world) and her advisors are continuously monitoring changes in the flow of opinion in the All Thing. (I assume the term “All Thing” is taken from the name of the Icelandic legislative assembly, the Althing (or “all-thing,” thing being an old Norse word for assembly and from the same root as the word that we use to mean “object.”—thanks Wiktionary.) ) Anyway, it will be interesting to see if our new president has already created a sort of nascent All Thing using the internet and how that will evolve in the coming years.

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