Building on a topic Christian brought up earlier in his blog, I’d like to share an amusing experience of computer-age politics that I had today. Earlier, I got an email from an environmental group, called the National Resources Defense Council. In it, it accused Toyota of violating its own “green” image, because it is lobbying Congress against a bill that would raise fuel efficiency to 35 mpg by 2020. Entitled, “Has Toyota no shame?” the message asks the reader to send a note to Toyota.
When you click the link, you get a form with a letter already filled out explaining “your” position (obviously, it’s the NRDC’s position, but you are able to edit it if you like). Click another button and whoosh! your letter explaining your position on fuel economy policy is off to the President of Toyota.
Well, dear reader, I sent the letter, because I personally do believe the auto companies are holding themselves to too low a standard when it comes to fuel efficiency, and it is a matter of international security (among other things). Of course, I knew full well that my robo-letter would go straight to someone’s recycle bin and would never be read by any human being, let alone the President of Toyota.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, 5 minutes later I received a robo-response from Toyota, justifying its opposition to the fuel efficiency bill in Congress, declaring its support for an alternate bill, and then bragging about its achievements in the area of global warming and fuel efficiency. In short, Toyota had a rapid automated response ready for me, which (successfully) blunted the NRDC’s attack (which did not disclose that Toyota was supporting an alternate, albeit weaker, bill).
The whole exchange made me realize that in all this flurry of messages, I was the only human engaged, that the messages were neither about the NRDC nor Toyota, but about me. Automation has induced me to interact in a complex policy dialogue between a special interest group (the NRDC) and major company (Toyota). I’m not sure what to make of this (is this a good thing?), except to say that it is a different experience than the usual to- and fro- of 30 second political attack ads on TV, because I participated in it. I spoke, even if it was not with my own voice, and I was heard, if only by a text recognition program, and I was responded to, even if only by a canned script.
I’m positing the actual letters in the comments, if you are curious to see them.