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Bottom-up is turning everything upside down

From Napster to Howard Dean, the Internet is changing American culture and politics

We live in a top-down society, where information is power, and where those at the top have most of the information and hold most of the power. This is true within the institutions of government, political parties, the media, corporations, and the military.

But something dramatic is happening: A giant wave of change is gathering more force each day. Power is shifting to the bottom, spawned by advances in technology and the decentralized bottom-up nature of the Internet.

The signs have been occurring all around us over the past few years. Legal or not, like it or not, “Napster,” the peer-to-peer file sharing program which millions used to download their favorite tunes, forever changed the recording industry.  It was millions of music lovers at the bottom of the power pyramid that was using the power of the Internet. This created the biggest change in how music is distributed since the turntable.

Now the tables are being turned just about everywhere you look. The Dean for America Campaign was really hundreds of thousands of Americans working together to change a top-down, big-money political system that has corroded, rusted, and failed to solve many of our nation’s problems.  

Like Napster, the Dean campaign may have failed, but few would deny the claim that the Dean campaign succeeded in changing the ways campaigns are waged today.  That change will continue.

If information is power, then the Internet which distributes information democratically to anyone who has access to it, is no longer distributing just information— it's distributing power.  And in a top-down society, it's empowering the bottom. Put more simply—in America, it's empowering the American people.

Now we see the change in other unexpected ways: 19 minutes into the “60 Minutes” segment, the doctored documents questioning President Bush’s National Guard duty were immediately challenged by posters on the . These posters had online nicknames like "Buckhead." The challenge flew off the Web and into the mainstream media, and within hours, one of the most highly-regarded and most powerful news organizations found itself on the ropes— and was later forced to apologize.   

Sinclair Broadcasting decides at the top to air an anti-John Kerry documentary.  That is, until Web sites and Weblogs across the Internet called on “netizens” to get involved and call Sinclair-owned stations as well as Sinclair advertisers to demand that they pull the plug, or risk viewers turning the channel and boycotting advertisers' products.  Sinclair announced a change of heart this week.

Then there is the military: Today’s on how technology and the Internet is affecting our knowledge about the war in Iraq: “With cell phones and the Internet, the military’s ability to censor what is reported home (by our troops) has sharply diminished.” 

In fact, the story points out that one of the reasons we know about the 18 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company refusal to obey an order they felt was unsafe— and got their side of the story— was that they called and e-mailed their friends and relatives.   Otherwise, we would likely only be hearing that 18 members of the armed forces were being held on charges of failing to obey an order,  if we heard anything at all.

Some may say that none of this bottom-up stuff is a good thing— and it may be downright scary to a lot of people.  Others will revel in it and focus on the positive democratizing effect technology and the Internet will have on an ever more empowered citizenry.

Either way, change is coming.  

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Editor's note:  Congratulations to our very own Joe Trippi!    This is one of the most important worldwide bodies on this subject.  The honor could not be more deserved.  Great job Joe!

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager, is an MSNBC contributor and a political analyst for "Hardball with Chris Matthews." 

Watch Trippi's Take on MSNBC Live, everday, between 10:30 and 11 a.m. ET.