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Your Vote Counts, and Not Just in Elections

Interactivity is all the rage in the so-called new media. News organizations and webmasters who communicate via the Internet, cellphones and the like don't just present information -- take it or leave it. They solicit your opinion, your analysis, your feedback. The idea is that the more you interact with their programs and websites, the more loyal you'll be, driving up sales and ratings.

Sometimes cyberspace seems like one big, interactive chat room, in which online users react to everything from movie stars' love lives to the governor's budget.

Every day, media outlets take the pulse of the nation through interactive surveys. Cable news networks ask us to instantly rate the president's speeches. Radio shows take snapshot polls on silly subjects like which sports star should just shut up. Once-haughty newspapers like the Washington Post are assigning writers and editors to chat with readers in real-time, online sessions.

Even the gray lady of American television news, CBS, is going interactive. CBS usually mixes a cutesy feature story into its showcase nightly newscast, and now its viewers choose that story, from among three possibilities each day. And readers of the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper in Madison now pick from among five stories they'd like to see on tomorrow's front page. The story that gets the most votes is guaranteed page-one treatment.

With all this interactivity in today's media, can the day be far behind when we'll be voting on such things as sporting events as we watch them on television?

We can just hear the announcer now, as the crowd waits in nervous anticipation: This is a key substitution, ladies and gentlemen. . . . Coach Smith is pacing nervously, waiting for the vote totals. . . . Yes, they're just in! And you viewers have selected Johnson by a margin of 14,000 votes. Here he comes now!