With UK youth voter tournout at its lowest, the website If Not Now was launched to get younger people more involved in politics. As a contributing writer, it's my goal to present politics as interestingly and entertainingly as possible.
Paper voting is archaic, slow and old school. That's exactly what makes it so good.
You’ve just sat down. You’re just sinking into that patch of the sofa with a cuppa and are slow-dunking your choccy biccy until it goes slightly soggy. Yes, you are sitting very, very comfortably and hiving off in the pissing rain, cold – or being England probably both – to the voting station is the last thing on your mind. So should you be beating yourself up?
Well actually, no. It´s perfectly rational not to want to vote. It takes up your time and energy, and there is very little chance that exactly your vote with be the deciding one in the election. In fact, in the entire history of global politics, there is not even one case in which precisely one vote has changed the outcome.
But even if you don’t that’s not to say you’re not „voting“ in another – slightly more rational way. The couch-friendly way. The kind of way where your thumb just has to travel to your smartphone screen and before you know it you’ve voiced an opinion even before your biccy dissolves into your tea: On social media.
In this space political participation has never been higher. In fact, on Twitter alone, British MPs and parties have well over a million followers. It’s a bit like a modern, virtual greek colosseum. The politicians have to perform to the millions, and they can shout out „booo“ or „yeaah“ as much as they want – so long as it fits within 140 character nuggets. It’s instant, transparent, and it can happen exactly where you are – whether you’re at a rave or on the toilet.
So for all this ultra-hip, tech-savvy virtual democracy, it should be no surprise that paper voting has been left behind with the videotape collection. In comparison it’s about as modern as arriving by chariot and delivering your opinion to whitehall via carrier pigeon. It’s archaic, slow and frankly: old school.
But: that’s exactly what makes it so good.
Every second, 6000 tweets are sent. Meaning almost as soon as you’ve reached character #139/140, it’s old news. What feels like a stand alone statement to your followers, ends up appearing somewhere in a news feed sandwiched between GreatAuntieMavis’s view on the correct length of grass cuttings in Bognor Regis and BigBoy2001’s objection to porn filters. After that it becomes a not just another statement but a statistic. Something to be analyzed by teams of trends analysts – and perhaps worryingly, used for and against political agendas.
In comparison, voting – the vintage paper kind – happens just once every four years. Your piece of paper is (just) one of fifty million. With this four-sided piece – there is no room for interpretation. It’s not hashtaggable, likable or shareble. It doesn’t even have a semi-rediculous username name on it. In fact, in terms of viral sex-appeal it’s about as steamy as a sermon from Pope Benedict XVI: it literally gets read once, locked in a box and shut away in a basement before being incinerated.
But of course that’s not what really matters. What counts is that what you put on that page on that day (provided it’s not smiley faces or unicorns) will determine not just who’s making the decisions but what they’re deciding on. And believe it or not that will directly influence you. From university fees, to how much cash you get out of your pay check, to funding for the park you walk Fido in.
And no amount of tweets will be able to change that.