Many technologies come along hyped as being the next big thing to change political campaigning. Not nearly so many make an impact. One of my rules for judging which is likely to make the cut is the question of scale. Quite simply, small rural divisions in local government aside, there are simply too many voters for candidates to be able to personally spend much time communicating with them on a 1-to-1 basis.
The communications technologies that have the most impact are those that in some way scale, ideally preserving a sense of personal communication yet in a way that allows the necessary economy of effort that lets candidates communicate with many candidates at once. Hence the popularity of radio and then TV – seeing and hearing the candidate in person gives the personal touch, whilst their broadcast nature lets the candidate reach many people in one go. Hence too the minimal impact of instant messaging, as it has never been that good at scaling up in the same way.
I talked more about this question of scale when judging technology at the recent Contested Spaces conference, the one at which I also discovered who should win an award for worst online political campaigner.
So what does that mean for the future? Holograms – for they crack the problem of scale very nicely.
At the moment, of course, holograms seem risible. As risible as in fact many new campaign technologies have initially. Yet the speed with which computing power and network capacity are continuing to increase is already bringing holograms to the edge of practicality for regular use, such as in top end video conferencing system. Give it a few more years and projected 3D holograms will be widespread.
There will be the fun consumer applications. (Imagine what Walt Disney will be able to do with them, giving you your very own Mickey Mouse to buy and have at home.)
There will be the business applications. (Imagine the use of holograms and smart Siri-like technology to greet and help customers as they walk into a shop.)
There will be the fun ‘have a celeb in your home’ applications that let you have a projected Richard Branson pop up in your kitchen each morning to read out the news headlines, or a 3D David Cameron follow you around as if he were your butler.
There will be the, ahem, less salubrious applications. (Let’s try not to think about the first case of a celebrity suing a dodgy home entertainment firm over its marketing of an unauthorised hologram featuring a scantily clad version of the celeb.)
Then there will be the political use. Once holograms become widespread, it will seem perfectly natural for canvassers to go out armed with a hologram, ready to deploy the candidate and select the right mini-stump speech depending on what issue the person found behind each door is interested in. In fact, this is but a logical step up from the US canvassers who in the past have gone out armed with handheld devices armed with a selection of short films, again ready to select the most apposite one depending on who is behind the door.
Imagine too the use of holograms to let an elected official off in the capital city to appear at a meeting in their constituency without having to travel back and forth in the middle of a debate on a key piece of legislation. Or the use of an electronic pop up version of the candidate to make sure they can give speeches at three different events at the same time. Technology will mean mere mortals can do the sort of simultaneous fringe meeting appearances that until now have been the preserve of Simon Hughes.
As with Twitter and many other technologies before it, there will be those who splutter in outrage about how absurd all this new-fangled electronic nonsense is. But as with Twitter, when something is used by millions of members of the public, the real absurdity will turn out to be the idea that such a widespread and popular communications method is one political campaigns should steer clear of.
So holograms. Remember you read it here first.
Holographic campaigning tactics don’t yet feature in 101 Ways To Win An Election. That awaits the fourth edition, but in the meantime find out about the first and best edition of my book on how to win elections here.