Telling Practices in the VP Selection Process

One part of Barack Obama’s campaign strategy has been to build a network of supporters unlike any that’s been built before in the U.S. An oft noted component of the organizational effort is the use of text messaging. One purpose of this is, of course, mobilization, and, specifically, rapid mobilization of supporters to rallies or to quash rumors and such. In addition to this, though, there is a symbolic function that almost certainly enhances the solidarity of the network: via the text messaging functions of their cell phones, supporters can be the first to receive campaign news. According to today’s NYT (“Obama Ready to Announce Running Mate” by Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny), within the next few days, if all goes according to plan, they will find out about his choice of running mate directly from the campaign (maybe even directly from him) rather than having to “read about it in the papers” or “hear it on the evening news.” This is a great example of using technology to achieve a profoundly social accomplishment on a massive scale—using notification to build social relationships.

There’s an interesting tension between the ordinary hierarchical structure of the campaign organization and it’s more egalitarian mass base. The VP vetting committee consists of a small inner-circle at the top. Under “ordinary” circumstances, we would expect some initial spreading of the news through a few other levels of inner-circle, but, apparently, that won’t be quite how it works:

“…Mr. Obama’s deliberations remain remarkably closely held. Aides said perhaps a half-dozen advisers were involved in the final discussions in an effort to enforce a command that Mr. Obama issued to staff members: that his decision not leak out until supporters are notified.”

And even the future VP nominee is not in the loop:

“Mr. Obama had not notified his choice — or any of those not selected — of his decision as of late Monday, advisers said.”

Some of these considerations are purely instrumental attempts to maximize media impact, of course, but there’s relational information in them thar hills too: each player learns where s/he stands in the information order and can decode this to ascertain where s/he stands in the pecking order.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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