Before Twitter and Facebook, there was only one place where you could broadcast your inane real-time status updates and make sure all your friends clicked on that hilarious link or read the Goo Goo Dolls lyrics that totally reflected what you were going through: the away message.
Unfortunately, things have changed—AIM no longer holds a monopoly on that virtual real estate, and the number of outlets through which you can share your inane real-time status updates is now mind-blowingly diverse. Fortunately, someone has finally tapped into our mundane obsession with updating and reading other people's away messages—and they've devised a way to get us all to donate those spaces to a fantastic cause: helping Barack Obama get elected.
"My gchat away message has been politicized since about last September," says Seth Flaxman, creator of We Approve This Message (weapprovethismessage.com), a new site that asks you to post their URL in your away message from now until Election Day in order to help spread accurate and compelling information about why Obama should be the next President of the United States.
The site, Seth* told me over e-mail, came out of two realizations he had: one, that people are more likely to read a friend's away message than any other news source, and two, that a lot people are looking for ways to help Obama win. So he and a great team of editors—Jesse Schreger, Nick Klagge, Rachel Krol, Arathi Rao and Julia Moline (all of whom are recent graduates and work in economics and public policy)—have been working on building a site that links to op-eds, news reports, and fact-checking sites that make the case for Obama and reveal the inconsistencies of the McCain campaign.
Who among us die-hard Obama fans can say that we haven't used the away message tactic to link to a particularly interesting editorial, or to a really amazing Obama speech? I think I even had a link to yeswecanhas, the Obama-themed LOLcat site, for at least a week—I even made the "Wake me up wen Obama getz here k bye" one my Facebook photo. So the next step can't be that difficult to take, and even if it is a bit daunting to commit your entire month to one away message, maybe it should be—it is the most important presidential election of our lives. Think of weapprovethismessage.com as a digital Obama bumper sticker—if a sticker could offer educated and hard-hitting commentary on Obama's health care plan versus McCain's or why we can't trust McCain to regulate banks and big businesses.
Last week, before I had heard anything about the project, weapprovethismessage.com took over most my Gchat friends list's status boxes—a curious development which led me to click on it and marvel at the simple brilliance of its idea. It's such a great way to centralize your support in a pervasive yet subtle manner, I thought. Little did I know, the site was actually the idea of a few friends of mine, and it had spread before they had a chance to ask me to participate. Now, only a few days later, the URL is everywhere I look--people who I haven't talked to in years have made weapprovethismessage.com their facebook status, many doing so in the gramatically awkward "Kate is weapprovethismessage.com" format; friends from high school have clicked on it from my status and messaged me to tell me what a great site it is. It's viral linking at its best, and it's for the best candidate. What away message could honestly be more important than that?
If worse comes to worse and desperation sets in about changing your status, you can always open a Twitter account and Tweet your heart out about what you had for breakfast and how those MGMT lyrics totally reflect what you're going through. But imagine! If we can stay loyal to Obama even with the ridiculous turnaround speed of the away message, that probably means we're all onto something by supporting this young Senator from Illinois.
Please consider pasting this this into your status/away message/profile/twitter notification right now. E-mail your friends about how they should post it too. Tattoo it to your Gchat box. Any of them count, because in a news cycle saturated with inaccurate and muddled information, every click on a site committed to collecting the most incisive data helps strengthen the message: http://weapprovethismessage.com/
*Full disclosure: I know Seth and I'm friends with some of the editors—they graduated a few years before me from Columbia and, not to get all corny, but, in the interest of full disclosure, I have spent years admiring and looking up to them. Just to show you why, here is more of my interview—Seth's answer to "Why Obama?" in full:
My core position for "Why Obama?" actually goes beyond a bunch of issues, beyond the fact that I think Obama can fix our economy and revolutionize our education system, and beyond the fact that Obama will make sure everyone has quality affordable health care.
I want the President of the United States to be someone brilliant and completely unflappable, someone who can calmly and precisely understand a situation and find a solution, whose natural instinct is towards bringing Americans together and not toward angry divisiveness, and who has the power to inspire me and my entire generation into public service. Obama is all those things and more. His story as a self-made man is the quintessential American story, just thinking of the hard work and discipline, the years of education and intense studying that Obama mustered to get where he is today, it inspires me to be more disciplined about my own work ethic, it reinforces my faith in the American Dream.