Would Napoleon have been a Tweeterer?

Once upon a time, the fastest way to send a message to somebody was via the services of a horse and rider across many miles of rugged field and stream. But sometimes even that luxury was unavailable.

In 490 B.C., for example, the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran non-stop from the town of Marathon to Athens (a distance of 42 kilometers, or 26 miles) to announce that Greece had triumphed in a major battle against Persia. At the very moment the speedy messenger announced the jubilant news to the Assembly, the legend goes, he collapsed on the floor, dead from exhaustion.

If only Persia had waited just 3 millennia to open their war against Greece, Pheidippides could have simply thumbed a quick text message about the victory back to Athens. But then there would probably be no New York Marathon to run today, or heroic legend to read about on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Others, like Napoleon Bonaparte, would probably have had mixed feelings about signing up for our modern arsenal of messaging services, like Twitter. In fact, the French leader got so tired of receiving the weekly pile of letters that he forbade anybody to open them until exactly 12 days had elapsed. Nappy understood that the majority of the letters he received were nothing more than annoying spam (of course he probably used a much fancier French word to describe it). And if the letter contained an ‘urgent matter,’ it was more often than not resolved by the time the correspondence was opened. So instead of wasting his time replying to every single correspondence, the French emperor went on to conquer half of Europe.

Modern leaders seem to have forgotten Napoleon’s wisdom, which might not be such a bad thing since the last thing the world really needs is another wanna-be world conqueror with lots of spare time on his hands.

However, on the other hand, do we really want our national leaders subscribing to all of the latest electronic gadgetry? Should they not be more interested in keeping their crowned heads above the great jabbering masses and the latest hand-held gimmick? After all, it is the presidents and prime ministers who should be making history, not text messaging their friends about it. And then there is always the chance (admittedly remote) of one world leader misinterpreting the meaning of an Emoticon sent from another world leader. Image the damage that one misguided frowny-face Emoticon could have on world history! And more than one government has collapsed due to an internal email that leaked into the public arena.

Of course, it is vital that our leaders stay connected, in touch and generally informed, but it seems that the president of any nation, no matter how small and insignificant that nation may be, should have no problem getting access to a simple rotary dial telephone whenever he (or she) feels the need to make a call. It worked for many centuries; why can’t it work today?

I guess the question is: does incessant blogging, twittering and blackberry-ing make for a better leader? A similar question is heard about writers: How would Shakespeare have felt about all of the twittering going on today about extremely mundane topics? Yes, brevity may be the soul of wit, but best if the brevity is contained inside of an intelligent novel, right?

Do politicians conspicuously subscribe to these social message services just to look like they are in touch with the current crazes? Would tyrants use them? I could almost imagine what Hitler’s facebook account would look like, or Joe Stalin’s. There’d be so few friends listed from last night’s party that they’d have to go out and knock off a few more people. Or every face in the nation would be listed out of pure survival instincts. It will be interesting to see what happens to these ‘democratic’ services in the more authoritarian states.

But right now (the present moment is all that matters to the twitter user; the past and future means absolutely nothing), in politics, every single technology matters like never before. On February 4, 1992, Bush the Elder learned this hard lesson when he ‘discovered fire,’ so to speak in side of a grocery store. With cameras rolling for a precious photo op, the president showed real surprise as a grocery cashier checked his items over top of a laser scanner (I can almost hear him now: Gadzooks, men! Seize that woman, she’s armed and spooky!). So whatever the downside may be, the gadgets have infiltrated the political arena and seem there to stay. And there is at least one very good explanation for the upsurge of popularity: money, money, money.

The first US politician to prove the cash potential of the Internet was Howard Dean, who stunned observers and opponents alike by raking in big bucks for his 2004 bid for the White House with millions of modest on-line donations. He failed to win the election, of course, but he did start a new trend in fundraising history.

In the last US presidential election, Barack Obama’s campaign team utilized ‘Twitter’ technology [according to the company, the service “is a free social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time”]. Obama is also a regular Blackberry user, using the super-secure chunk of technology, the ‘8830 World Edition,’ which probably means something spectacular to people who have the time to master the diverse functions on their CD players. So in addition to money, the new technology can target huge numbers of voters in record time. And time is money in every sphere of interest.

And talk about coming out of the political closet. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has taken his country to a new political level with a barrage of technological firsts, including the introduction of a sophisticated video blog (www.kremlin.ru/eng/sdocs/vappears.shtml) where he describes local and state initiatives (with English-language subtitles!).

In his latest entry (dated April 22), Medvedev discusses – what else? – Internet development in Russia, and alludes to the difficulty of regulating this awesome technology.

“Social networks and blogs have become centerpieces,” the president stated with enthusiasm…

“I have noticed too that my blog has taken on a life of its own and that people are sharing their thoughts with each other and discussing various current issues, and I am very happy to see this.”

Finally, Medvedev caught the attention of the Russian blogger community, a growing social phenomenon in its own right.

In the popular LiveJournal site, one of the users detailed the deplorable conditions at an infection hospital in the town of Dashki in the Ryazan region. The blogger, identified as “zubarev_a”, included shocking photos in his blog. The sensation that the posting aroused did not escape the attention of the president, it seems, and the subject was reportedly brought up during his meeting with the Ryazan’s region Governor Oleg Kovalev.

Some media watchers now fear that bloggers could flood the president’s blog site with a multitude of other requests.

Welcome to the new age!

Robert Bridge, RT