Our society has changed over the past 240 years since the Founding Fathers strode on the eastern lands of North America, devising the idea that is the United States. Technology has played a pivotal role this change. From steam engines to railroads, cars to airplanes, radio to television, society has welcomed the comfort of technology.
Arguably the biggest change in the past decade is the rise of social media. Politicians and the people alike have accepted this new form of communication with open arms. According to thewashingtonpost.com, even the White house has embraced new media, posting over 400 videos on YouTube in 2015.
In light of this governmental use, one may call into question the effectiveness of social media in our republic.
Our government system is a fragile masterpiece. It relies on the expectation that the people are an “enlightened citizenry” seeking the truth above all costs, according to Thomas Jefferson.
John Milton was the first person to argue for the freedom of expression in 1664. In his speech “Areopagitica,” Milton argues that a “marketplace of ideas” leads to the truth, defeating falsehood; but only through pensive, careful expression can truth be found.
Social media are the antonym of pensiveness as a whole. According to USAtoday.com, it encourages “quick and frequent engagement” to be thrust to the world without much thought or consideration.
When Milton envisioned the masses writing, he did not mean quick, senseless notes as we compose today. He argued that:
“When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends…”
Online writing is not only unthoughtful, it also does not encourage opinion consideration and intellectual debate like Milton envisioned. People online are intolerable of other opinions, according to Controlling the Message.
As a result of media, people create their own “cocoons of homogeneity” according to Controlling the Message. These “cocoons” reduce thoughtful deliberation and mutual respect among citizens. When opinions are buried and disregarded, the truth will not be found, according to Milton.
This intolerance of opinions is dividing us even more into two separate, intolerable, uncivil parties that do not encourage conversation, which is “the greatest political evil” according to John Adams. Social media makes us forget that a person is a complex, multidimensional specimen whose many judgements form his or her schema on life that is worth hearing even if you don’t agree with it.
Even if valid opinions get shared online, difficulty arises in getting the whole message communicated.
Luke Lonien, a mass media senior at MNSU, said, “You get snippets of what candidates’ policies or opinions are, but the reader has to dig further to get a full understanding.”
“Digging further” is not something the typical user is doing.
People have always wanted to fit in and be accepted in society, and social media is a great outlet for bandwagoning, encouraging popularity and coolness over truth.
Take several past presidencies for example. When radio came to be, who wins the presidency but FDR, the king of a cool, reassuring voice on his radio “fireside chats,” according to politico.com. When the television came around, who should win but the handsome JFK, the actor Ronald Regan, and the character Bill Clinton?
Politico.com further explains that personality and stardom has taken precedence over image and policy. Big personalities like Donald Trump, therefore, have led the charge this election season; his demeanor is large enough to entertain the population.
Tasneem Shire said, “People think they know about each candidate from what they see on social media, but they are really only seeing the candidates the way media portrays them.”
Truth is not always the biggest personality or the coolest guy in the room according to politico.com. The truth doesn’t get the most likes.
I’d like to imagine that if John Milton and the Founding Fathers looked at America today, they’d be pleased. However, logic tells me they would find much different problems here than plagued them in former days.
Graduate student of technical communications Matt Eberline said, “For the first time the public has a truly open forum to share and discuss what they want from candidates and government.”
This limitless open forum, though endowed with possibilities as Eberline said, can make Americans suffer from the opposite of what Milton and the founders fought for. For the first time in history, we can have too much communication, too much written word, and too much expression.
How about that for your daily dose of irony?