The Twitter Hordes: A Fictional Trip Inside David Cameron's Head


Social media is disaggregating the body politic into a million noisy voices


You battled your way to the top of the an established political party with your charisma and cunning and connections. You figured out how to stare into the cameras, television and otherwise, and to "connect" with voters. The media loved you, and they hated you, but mostly they loved you because you made for good stories.

You hated the media, the way they took things out of context, caught you out saying stupid things, treated the whole of politics as some kind of a game instead of a very serious business. But then you made some friends among the ones who'd been around. You confided in a few and saw who burned you, confided again in those who didn't. They told stories that made you sound brave or smart or craven. But always you were a man of action with enemies who were other men of action and you went after each other like gladiators, with honor, for the good of the country. They were spectators who could only be ennobled by the grandness of your actions and so they saw in what you did the grandness of your actions. You were fundamentally on the same team, with everything that you'd worked for on the line. And you ate dinner in a lot of the same places, less since you'd taken over the country, but still, there was a landscape of power that you both had mapped and that knowledge made you bond as locals.

You were aware of social media. You laughed at the energy devoted to building networks. It all seemed frivolous in the developed world.

Somewhere, there were citizens of your country, who you liked very much in the aggregate. You loved them. The body politic was your raison d'etre, and you thought of it often, recalled it kindly, and had its best interests in mind. It had opinions that could be found out and needs to be satisfied. It wanted jobs and law and order and freedom. It wanted you to look after the country's interests and stay out its way when things were going well. Even when minds were divided, the body politic endured, and that helped you keep going, helped you remember that you were defending a civilized, good people who just wanted to be happy.

Occasionally, a face would be pasted onto the body in a television program or in a magazine. Someone would speak for the people, usually in the third or fourth graf (or TV equivalent), right when the scene had been set. What the body politic wanted was explicable and coherent and usually favored one or the other of the policies that you or one of the other great men were promoting. What they wanted was either what you wanted or what your opponents wanted. Your civilized battlefield with its 90-degree angles and aim-and-shoot conventions defined the boundaries of what people wanted. What the body politic wanted was the blue guys (or the red guys) and what everyone wanted was for the glorious nature of the country to be known by all. Even the 24-hour news cycles didn't disrupt all that. They just sped up the battles, as if we'd Tivo'd the Battle of ________ and played it back at triple speed.

There were other groups that told you about the people. Social workers, etc. They came back with horrible stories that were tallied into data tables that ended up in the appendices of the reports that you read the summary of the executive summary of. It's not that you didn't care, but there were a lot of reports and what could the leader of a country do for an individual?

The statistics and the body politic and the lead quote in the A1 newspaper story and the man-on-the-street TV interview were necessary fictions. They let one story speak for the masses, and the masses speak for the one.

And then, when necessary, you would take to the airwaves to speak one-on-one, leader to body politic, about what was happening. You could calm the people. You could move the people. The people watched you when the people watched the television. And you could be on the television whenever you wanted.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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