The Curse of Micro Blogging

We live in a world of massive information. It comes at us rapidly, relentlessly and without mercy. As we sit at our computers, smart phones and televisions the information comes at us with such speed that it is often difficult to focus on any one item. Even if we can we often don’t get enough information from those little bits to make informed opinions or judgments. It doesn’t stop us from doing so even as we bemoan the dual curse and advantages or our high speed information age.

We live in a time when information is delivered to us as sound bites. The problem with sound bites is that the context from which these little blurbs are taken is missing. It is very easy to mislead and misrepresent what was being said. Even worse it can be used to unfairly put a politician or public figure on the defensive forcing them to deal with nonsensical issues that their detractors have created. This is not the principal of intelligent debate and dialogue. Instead of focusing on solutions to real problems we end up debating endlessly around issues created by the ruffled feathers of often easily offended people. We are becoming increasingly illiterate despite the massive resources of information available to us. But, then I am cynical enough to believe that politics seems to have no truck with intelligent debate or dialogue.

The suits that run the media outlets are partly to blame. Content is really the filler between advertisements. In order to keep revenue up they need to sell more advertising time or hike the rates. Regardless programming suffers. However, the real problem we now face is coming to us in the form of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook (I have accounts with both) that allow members to micro blog in the guise of status updates to our account pages. Now not only politicians and public figures are subjected to being taken out of context in the form of sound bites, we have unwittingly allowed this to happen to ourselves. Sadly, the micro blogger reduces him or her self to a sound bite and often comes across looking quite ignorant.

The internet has allowed us to create the so-called blogosphere where everyone with an internet connection and minimal language skills can opine endlessly about one thing or another. We are quite literally dumbing ourselves down as a collective whole. I don’t believe Americans are stupid. It causes me to take umbrage when someone suggests it. But, we do have an increasing problem. We are abdicating critical thinking and reducing it to vitriolic infused opinionating (From the GW Bush Political Lexicon). We are wading through a thick muck of hyperbole that obscures real facts. And both the left and the right are doing it.

To be fair there are some very good blogs on the internet. They are written by intelligent and thoughtful people who take the time to collect verifiable information and at least run a basic spelling and grammar check. But, even among the professionals there are often such gross errors that it is troubling to contemplate that they get paid to offer their opinion. I know that I casting stones in the proverbial clichéd glass house, but then again my blog is a vanity blog and no one is paying me for my opinion. I don’t even boast a journalism degree.

Micro blogging is an even worse trend in our information era. We are reducing our debates to 200 characters or less (including punctuation and symbols). This is the uber sound bite. The sound bites are no longer being ripped out from their original context – they are the context. Sure they may have links to articles and other pages across the web, but that is a poor substitute for the thoughtful contemplation of information and the resulting informed discussion.

Sarah Palin among others have taken to social networking sites in order to help create their political brands. The problem for politicians such as Palin is that on a good day they are easy to take out of context and be made fools of….for good reason too. That she is using the micro-blog to increase her popularity is disheartening not so much because she is a fool, but because so many other fools seem to accept what she is saying as truthful and fact based.

This is a very dangerous trend for our democratic republic. People increasingly get their information from micro blogs, from political satire shows such as The Daily Show or talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck who, themselves often have a weak or imperfect understanding of the issues they are blustering on about, and then fill their ballots out based on what they get there. There is no real debate. There is only a loud clamoring of feather in the wind opinions based on emotion (mostly anger) that runs along your accepted ideology. No one is really questioning what they believe. They are not examining it all. Instead there is the assumption that the other side is wrong. We see our opposition no longer as fellow Americans, but as ill informed idiots who aren’t smart enough to give the time of day to.

The founders of our nation used principals based on reason to frame our constitution and create a grand experiment in democracy. If reason falters for too long our way of life may fail for good. This is the curse of micro-blogging.

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