What's the role of computers in politics?

A viewer asked this question on 7/19/2000:


"Computer is a tool for economic development". Justify this statement elaborately with regard to the roles of computer technology in the area of government and politics

madpol gave this response on 7/19/2000:

I'm just starting to research this myself.

The capacity of the internet for fast, cheap, interactive direct mail offers some intriguing possibilities though. As do linking supporters through the "get paid to surf" pyramid deals to fundraise without your supporters actually paying.

If you are unfamiliar with these programs, there is a link to one on the index page of my website.

I haven't found any lit yet on the use of the internet as a fundraising tool. I suspect that those who have developed\are developing techniques are keeping them to themselves.

I intend to do some of that this election cycle, and may know more in November.

JesseGordon gave this response on 7/19/2000:

Well, that's a pretty general question, so I can only give a pretty general answer. You can ask some more specifics in a follow-up.

1) Organizing data:
Computers are very good at organizing data and making available in numerous formats. For example, the National Park Service keeps on computer (and makes available to the public) information about chemical pollution in rivers. On some rivers, they take dozens or hundreds of samples per day -- it would be a huge book if it couldn't be organized in a computer spreadsheet.

2) Disseminating information:
The Internet is the most powerful tool in history for distributing information. For example, the IRS has on-line every one of thousands of forms printed by the IRS -- you used to have to go to a big-city post office, or wait for a few days by mail, to get these forms.

3) Accessibility:
Before computers and the Internet, the only contact people had with their representatives was usually during elections by mass mailings. Now, every Senator and Representative has a web page, detailing their views on issues they deem important, as well as a history of every vote made in Congress.

4) Analysis:
Before computers, data was published in dense tables in thick books. Now it's available in computer-accessible tables, and as time goes by it'll all be available via the Internet. For example, the EPA maintains data on forest health by cataloguing geographic surveys of every square mile of forest in the US. That's just too much data for a person to take in; but via a computer analysis, you can summarize it by county over time, comparing state versus state, etc.

I'm not sure what you're getting at with the "economic development" part of your question, so ask some specifics in a follow-up.

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