Monday, May 22, 2006

Al Gore -- Part II

Two Al Gore related points:

First, on the front page of the "An Inconvenient Truth" website you'll notice that they have a tally of the number of people who've pledged to see the film opening weekend. This is a direct attempt to coordinate demand like we discussed in class. The goal is to get lots of people there to a) enhance their experience because they get to be part of the crowd (remember that individual demand for movies increases with aggregate demand), b) coordinate word of mouth advertising (that is, get lots of people talking about the movie at the same time so the message is reinforced), and c) hopefully generate enough box office to get more "free press" by getting in the news.

Also, on the front page are 2 great quotes. One, from Upton Sinclair highlights the point, discussed in the previous post, about the incentive to not believe things which are personally costly, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it." The other, from Mark Twain states, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

Second, it is common knowledge that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet. The claim was the source of many late night jokes and much media criticism, and, as sad as it may be, may have lost Gore the election. Of course, Gore never stated that he invented the internet, but how his "absurd" claim came to be common knowledge and a key component of his image as "an exaggerator" is an interesting case study in social processes -- particularly information cascades (coupled with the realization that they are particularly prevalent in politics where individual incentives to "get things right" is low).

Gore told Wolf Blitzer in March of 1999:

But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I've traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

During a quarter century of public service, including most of it long before I came into my current job, I have worked to try to improve the quality of life in our country and in our world. And what I've seen during that experience is an emerging future that's very exciting, about which I'm very optimistic, and toward which I want to lead.

Essentially, a writer for Wired took a quote out of context and spun it like Gore claimed he was the founder of the internet. Various Republican operatives and media members repeated the story and its interpretation of Gore's statement -- Gore claimed to invent the internet. This led to comedians making fun of it, and (especially since it was 18 months before the election) most people accepted it as truth without bothering to investigate its truth (why would they?).

Anyhow, you can read a complete description of the story (including detailed description of Gore's work promoting the internet while in congress at this link.

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