The lure of hardware

Since 1999 there have been 385 Government “announcements” about connecting schools to broadband Internet.

The number of political announcements quadrupled between 1999 and 2011. There were 41 announcements made by Clark’s 1999 administration, and there were 162 made by Key’s first Government.

The Internet is to modern politicians what railway was to them in the past; an opportunity for a photo-opportunity or to present themselves as nation-builders.

But the Internet is not proving to be a good political tool. It lacks physicality, and it is now ubiquitous.

The increase in announcements is in part due to the growth of the Internet over the past decade. The growth is also a sign that politicians are getting decreasing rewards from each announcement – so they try harder. 

Politicians love technology and infrastructure because they think people do. Technology is fiscal growth, and modernity. More importantly, it’s physical. In a working environment of so much chatter about issues and ideas, politicians crave the tangible.

They know that voters also care most about things they can see and touch. We like our family and our possessions because they’re evidence that we matter.

If a politician can be responsible for, or appear responsible for, physical things, they are more likely to get votes than an opponent who just yaps.

The trouble with the Internet is its ephemeral nature. You can see a railway line, and the train that runs on it. But Internet cables, and the data on our screens, are not physically impressive.

As the technology improves and becomes ubiquitous, political programmes about the Internet are becoming less impressive. We might have dreamed in 2001 that 200 crappy laptops would “rocket students into cyberspace”, but when students actually sent rockets into space with their laptops ten years later, we yawned.

Politicians take an embarrassingly long time to see these sorts of things.

So here’s some basic rules to check whether an infrastructure announcement is going to make political capital for you:

  1. Can the voter touch it, hold it or actually see the thing announced?
  2. Will a voter use it, value it highly, and will they think of you when they use it?
  3. Will the voter believe you are responsible for it?
  4. Is this a very new thing? (not something we take for granted or expect, and has not been a long time coming)
  5. Will a voter know someone who works on it / profits from it?

_____

The National Government is still pursuing political capital from the Internet. Today it announced the roll out of what it calls Ultrafast Broadband, I had a sense of hearing this before. So I ran a search on beehive site that returned 385 school broadband ‘announcements’.

Here’s a list of example ‘announcements’ from each year.

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