As Americans head to the polls today, I am struck by something that I think is pretty profound. For the first time, the Internet is really changing the way this election day is unfolding. Not just for Americans, but for everyone.

Sitting up here in the Great White North, I often wonder why the U.S. elections are such a big deal to non-Americans. Well, people say that the U.S. President is the most powerful man on the planet. I guess that is a compelling reason. As one of the closest neighbours, what happens down there definitely affects what goes on up here. In the past, I remember tuning in to CNN on the night of the election to hear the results. Sometimes, if I got tired of the rhetoric, I’d turn over to the CBC to get the Canadian perspective. That pretty much summed up my consumption of election coverage.

Now, the Conversation Age is upon us…and this changes everything. Here’s why:

You’re all Reporters Now. Christopher Penn of Marketing over Coffee and the Financial Aid Podcast is live on location this morning at his local polling station taking photos with his “nikon and flash”. Someone asked him if he was a reporter. I’m not sure what he said in reply, but I definitely would have said yes! His photo report is online at his blog here. What Chris is providing is a real live account of people’s experience, with no spin, no rhetoric, and no flashy advertisements. He’s capturing a moment and sharing it with the world. And we’re lapping it up. Beats the hell out of CNN, if you ask me. If you see Chris today, buy him a coffee. Or six. He’s working hard to get the real story to you. 

The Body of Influence has Changed. People are influenced by many factors when it comes to deciding who to vote for. Number one is probably the media, only because they are the loudest. Unfortunately with current media biases in the major news networks, this becomes an ineffective way to get the whole truth. Secondary is by listening to the candidates themselves, which can be equally confusing once the spin doctors do their work. Third, we listen to the people around us. We have discussions at family dinners, in coffee shops, over the water cooler…and we learn from others what the issues are and are influenced one direction or another. Well, people, the space around the water cooler is a lot bigger now. Even if you have never used Twitter before, go to Twitter Search (you don’t need an account) and type “vote”, or “Obama”, or “McCain” in the search field. There’s your body of influence now. 

It’s Gone Global. I know some people will be out of sorts with this one. The world does NOT have the right to vote for the U.S. President, obviously. Some would say that it’s inappropriate to even ask this question. After all, do I really want to know or even really care what people on other countries decide? If this was done for Canadian elections, I might say, “It’s my country, my leader, my choice”. But three guys in Iceland decided to ask the question anyway and set up the site “If the world could vote?“. As far as game changers go, this one is by far the most profound in my opinion. Not because it gives people in other countries a voice. But because it allows a snapshot of public opinion in the blink of an eye. This tool allows people from all over the whole world to voice their opinion. Forget the U.S. elections. Imagine the applications of this kind of tool. And the implications.  

Well, that’s my take on the transformation that’s happening around us. It remains to be seen if the influence of the Internet will really have an impact at the end of the day on who gets into power. But one thing I do know – it’s definitely going to be an interesting ride from here on in.