The Capacity to Change the Discourse

In the aftermath of the Tucson shootings there has been a lot of discussion about the need for civility in the political arena. And although there has been some dialing back of the rhetoric, not all that much has changed… yet.    And, while I truly doubt that things will ever revert back to the way they were before we had targeted media outlets and social media, I do believe that we are still experiencing growing pains when it comes to our communications options.  I believe that over time we will learn to behave differently.   For it is not simply that we have 24 hews cycles that demand content, it is that we have the option to only listen to folks we already agree with and to join our own communications sub-cultures.   Long gone are the days when unbiased newscasters like Walter Cronkite spoke and a good many of us listened to the “most trusted man in America”.  No one holds this position anymore, whom you trust depends on where on the political spectrum you sit.

I say these things as a self proclaimed media junkie.  Like many others, I have my biases.  I get most of my news on-line, although I read the NY Times and watch cable news as well.  Of course, my favorite source of news is John Stewart and the Daily Show.  He definitely holds up a mirror to what tends to pass as political discourse and we see the hypocrisy and subterfuge reflected back at us.

So why am I optimistic?   I remember the early days of e-mail when we struggled to get the tone right.   We knew how to write business correspondence and we knew how to effectively negotiate a business call, but this new medium was different and somewhere in between. It was informal, yet it was in written form.  I remember recoiling when emails I sent were totally misinterpreted or forwarded to folks that I never intended to see them.  But, that was a long time ago and the business community and I did learn how to handle email and to be appropriate and effective.  I believe we are now in a similar transition period with social  and other new media.

Social media enables conversations.  Yes, it can be the source of vitriolic rhetoric and help stir partisan crowds, but it can also serve as a forum for discussion and an exchange of ideas.  I submit that we are still learning how to use these forums, as well as learning what privacy is and should mean, as well as what we should and should not post.  The consequences of our actions on-line are starting to become more and more apparent and I predict that there will slowly be a shift in behavior.  This will not happen overnight.  There will still be subcultures and inappropriate pictures on Facebook.  But, more of us will start listening to each other and behaving responsibly.  I do believe we are capable of learning and reflection.  None of us want to see an innocent child shot down by a crazed killer.  Fortunately, there are still some things we all seem to be able to agree upon and that, at least, is a start!