In his more provocative writings on the digital, Jean Baudrillard prophesized that the adoption of the binary code would reduce all of the world's previously analogic chaos to an all-powerful dualism, thus forever erasing the possibility of difference. The digital would introduce a state of "constant test" that would render the production of meaning null: the question/answer of the stimulus/response negating the development of discussion and representation. Generally dismissed as hyperbolic and millenarian, Baudrillard's thoughts nevertheless do spark some heat when thinking about the existence of what I'll refer to here as the permanent poll: the constant, all-pervasive demand for feedback in an era of integrated pol[l]-itics.
Let's take an example: on Twiigs, a one-stop shopping spree for the Internet poll-taker, yesterday's entertainment poll was "What do you think of Ashley going back to blonde?" I took the poll in order to view the results: of 587 respondents, 35% choose "Yes, I love it!"; 33% picked "No, I prefer her as a brunette"; and 32% reported "She [would] look great with both," demonstrating the tendency of the poll to neutralize at 50/50 or in this instance 33/33/33. Even when polls have some meat to their bones: "How much would you pay for a rechargeable electric car like the Chevrolet Volt, which General Motors says could get an EPA rating of 230 miles per gallon in the city?" ($20,000 won with 42%), they are usually in such close proximity to the somewhat vacuous "Which John Hughes teen movie is your favorite?" (apologies to the Hughes' fans) to be really effective.
From shows whose entire existence depends upon the ritual engagement of vast audiences (American Idol being the most obvious) to the participatory news environment of the twenty-hour stations (FOX News seems to dominate in this category: "Are Obama's Opponents Racist?"), or the polls that seek to find out your opinion on the various pollsters: "Is Fox Fair and Balanced?"we often find ourselves being queried. While many of the news polls tend to offer only two choices ("agree/disagree" being the most popular), several have between four and five options, making the answers slightly more qualified ("agree" shifting to "strongly agree"). But still, the question raised by Baudrillard lingers: do these polls initiate insightful conversations that interrogate the issues? Or does the poll end simply with the results?