This evening I read listlessly from a library copy of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by historian Daniel Walker Howe. It’s part of the multi-volume Oxford History of the United States, and covers a relatively unloved part of that country’s history. It begins at the end of the War of 1812 and ends before the long prelude to the Civil War. But Howe depicts that period as the opposite of a dry spell between bursts of action. Technological breakthroughs in communications and transportation, especially the telegraph and the steam locomotive, changed the nature of social intercourse in a still largely empty country. Howe says the advent of fast transport and faster broadcasting of ideas was at least equal in its social impact to the arrival of the internet 150 years later. As one example among many, he argues that Southern slaveholders didn’t need to care what anyone else thought of their nasty business in 1815, but that that had started to change for good 33 years later.
I’m writing a book about Stephen Harper and it occurs to me that when he was elected in 2006, there was (for most Canadians not enrolled in higher education) no Facebook, no Twitter, and Youtube was barely six months old. I’ll tell you right now I don’t see the social-media revolution as having had a deciding impact on Canadian electoral politics or government. But I’ve got a hunch it’s had some impact.
I invite your observations and theories in the comment section below. I don’t have a leading question because I have no idea what I’m looking for, but: have technological changes had any influence on Canadian politics since 2006? Feel free to DM me on Twitter or email me if you have thoughts you want to share more quietly. As always, be nice to one another in the comments, please.