Critical mass is about more than just numbers, though. It also represents a diversity of ideas and skills coallescing and building to the point where something greater than the sum of its parts arrises and spurs further creativity. So many things are hapening at once to drive this revolutioon that it truly is magnificent to watch and be a part of it.
Secondly, the basic concept of how the Internet should be used is changing from an information system to an organization system. The blogosphere was the catalyst for that, in that it allowed two-way communication with people in a position of power and simultaneously, communication within the audience. Not only can people now easily publish themselves, they now can get instant feedback and ongoing discussion that helps them shape their message and reach a broader audience. The sudden explosion of ideas allowed by that free-flowing medium has served us enormously well over and over again. Joe Trippi and the Deaniacs took it one step further, and found ways to connect those people together offline as well as online, organizing all of this energy into a powerfull force that very nearly upset the entire Democratic party. This would have been impossible without the wealth of new software tools made available. Everythig from MeetUp, to Dean's Get Local tools, to CivicSpace and other organizing tools are enabling this mass of people to settle out into local clumps, each able to be remarkably effective within their sphere of influence.
The third is the people themselves. Not only are their more of them, but they're less geeky and more creative in more diverse ways than the people online four years ago. MoveOn.org and the Dean campaign both showed an incredible degree of talent rising from the bottom up that has allowed them to do things no one else ever even thought of before. The fundraising is really just a subset of this, with more peole to donate and more creative ideas for encouraging them to do so. Even just the sense of community obtained by way of Trippi's organizing and the communication revolution of the blogosphere encourages people entirely on it's own because they see their ideas being picked up and acted on, and they're empowered in a way they never could be before. That connectedness was probably the single biggest factor in the rise of Dean.
What we are experiencing now is really just the ignition of this great engine we've created. We're only now beginning to learn how it runs, and we're still perhaps a few years from learning to make it purr. We also need to learn how to turn online energy into real world results. Some of that is already happening, as evidenced by the explosion of Rathergate from the right, and the reaction to the Sinclair scandal now building on the left. We won't have matured, however, until our ideas here begin to be felt by everyday people outside of our community in their daily lives.
Dean gave us a taste of what that could be like. Imagine a world where the political process is driven by the people and the influence of corporate money and corporate media are balanced or even beaten our by our grassroots organization. The blogosphere already serves as a real-time watchdog on politicians, the media, and some aspects of business, and we're now learning to couple that with near instantaneous action. As our numbers grow, so does our speed and our power. It becomes harder and harder for politicians to lie and pander, and it becomes impossible for the powers that be to contain information and control the national agenda.
As I said in a high school English paper eight years ago, the Internet has the potential to become the greatest tool for freedom that the world has ever known. While my thoughts at the time were centered on availability of information, we are beginning to get a feel for that power now, learning how to use it with ever greater efficiency and effectiveness. That is an amazing thing to watch and even more awesome to be a part of, however small. Welcome to the wired revolution, folks. It won't be televised - it'll be blogged, emailed, and IM'ed.