“Political Standard Time” and Obama’s Second Term

Political Standard TimeMany have noted that everything in Obama’s second term has been about making the best use of the little time he has left to cement his agenda and his legacy. I’d add to this the idea that to paraphrase Douglas Adams, I’d say of our accelerated culture, “Time is an illusion, political time doubly so.”

Obama paradoxically has both all the time he needs, and must not waste a second.

Our changing view of time effects almost every part of our culture, no part has been so accelerated as what folks call “political cycles.” We’ve created a new “time zone” of sorts running on it’s own ever accelerating rate, what I’d call “Political Standard Time.”

Our understanding of time has always been deeply connected to our technologies: from our first sundials, to church bells ringing in times of regular prayer, to train conductors using a new absolute “standard time” to keep transcontinental trains from crashing into each other, to our atomic clocks keeping our GPS systems working. And now to “internet time” which is the engine driving Political Standard Time.

About 8 years ago (in calendar years not Internet-years) when I working for Sony I was evaluating a new hosting environment for most of the US Sony Pictures Internet efforts. I was comparing different companies global network performance, specifically looking at lowest latency, best performing networks for delivering Sony’s media-rich bits. At one company I was checking out the “ping times” — or how quickly data would travel their global network. They were impressive, but I’d been looking at many impressive companies and I wondered out loud, “could this networks show greater efficiency?” The engineer I was with answered with only a bit of snark, “Well, technically you are starting to bump up against the speed of electrons — the speed of light. We’re good, but we can’t do too much about that barrier.”

It was both the first time I really understood viscerally what the velocity of light actually was — really – and It was also the first time I recognized that light speed was frankly, a bit too slow for our needs.

This engine of “internet time” empowered a bizarre faster-than-light true 24 hour cycle of news media, with web sites, mobile news feeds, and breaking news “tweets” in a constant day and night hum.

And its not simply “the media” that is speeding up, I’m convinced that our brains themselves are being conditioned to absorb more faster, too. I’m sure our minds are not “keeping up” and the rate of new information coming in and we’ll always feel like we are on the wrong side of information overload. However, if time travelers from say back in the 1900’s appeared today, they would be astonished at the amount of data we relatively comfortably do manage on a daily basis. One researcher calculated that the average American takes in about 34 gigabytes worth of new data daily. And as this trend has effected our individual minds, it can’t but help effect our culture and our political culture. Author Mickey Kaus described this trend in the 2000 election, saying that “politics is able to move much faster, too, as our democracy learns to process more information in a shorter period and to process it comfortably at this faster pace.”

In the last campaign every night of the debate, within 10 minutes of a political event (such as Clint Eastwood’s performance art like speech at the GOP convention) entire new Twitter accounts were spawned (such as InvisibleObama that night) immediately gaining tens of thousands of followers so rapidly that Twitter shut them down out of security fears.

The fact that not just our news, but all of our politics is now moving at this “Political Standard Time” should give both Obama and the GOP some confort and some cause for concern.

The President should comfort himself that in this new hypertime, his 4 year term (even the early non-lame duck portion) is an eternity. He has all the time he needs to protect the achievements he made in his first Term and to attempt to add to his legacy in domestic and foreign affairs.

But the GOP should comfort themselves that inside this eternity of time, political fortunes have time to shift (and possibly shift back and forth multiple times)… their losses in 2012 were substantial but in this new timeline by the midterms that will feel like a lifetime ago.

In this new Political Standard Time Zone we all live in now, both sides have plenty of time ahead of them should they start now.

“Should they start now” being the key phrase there. If “speed kills” was true in the world of 1992 politics, it’s even more so now.
Doubly so.

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