- Date published:
1:35 pm, December 24th, 2019 - 22 comments
Categories: accountability, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, internet, Media, Politics, uncategorized - Tags: communication, rigged game, social media
It seems that some people hold the opinion that Social Media and the Internet have heralded in new era of democracy and have provided more democracy.
This is so misguided, it is almost funny.
Sure, we can access and share so much more information and so much faster than we used to. In the good old days, you had to subscribe to a newspaper or go to the library to borrow a book, take it home, and read all pages. Slow, but effective, because it allowed time to let things sink in, to think about it. No longer. Public and academic libraries are under constant thread of closing and/or downsizing in an effort to cut costs in favour of automation (i.e. fewer staff, fewer people to interact with) and newspapers have gone online to now put their content behind paywalls.
Nowadays, we devour headlines, tweets, and Instagram posts and suffer from constant and chronic FOMO. We take and post selfies like our lives depend on it. Sadly, in some case selfie-takers pay with their lives taking that penultimate selfie.
Paradoxically, and ironically, our communication and social skills seem to be changing and not for the better.
We don’t even know how to date anymore and let algorithms decide our ‘match’. I won’t go there.
Although there are very considered and intelligent pieces online on current political and socio-economic issues, healthy debate is somewhat of a rare beast. We tend to talk past each other and often seem to lack the clarity of expression via the written word and the reading comprehension to take it to the next level. The tools are there but our skills seem to lag behind. Effective communication is not just a skill, it’s an art and we all are artists in the sense that we create our communications as best as we can and as we see fit – it is our way to express ourselves and be known to and by the world. Problem is that many simply parrot without giving it much thought because it sounds good – have you ever heard a real parrot?
Another paradox is that with the whole world literally at our fingertips we seem to retreat small circles of likeminded people (AKA ‘friends’) whom we confirm and who confirm us. A few holiday snaps with holiday bods thrown in for good measure to collect the much-needed ‘likes’. We need to keep the ‘approval ratings’ up or we fall to pieces.
Arguably, communication is about generating, confirming, and strengthening human relationships. This is what Social Media was designed for. At least, I think it was. The origins of the internet were somewhat different. However, people are no longer the end or main purpose. We have become conduits, merely minute nodes in the World Wide Web through which information flows and is spread, at lightning speed. We believe we are players but we have become pawns in a much bigger game and we don’t even acknowledge this – no wonder that some say the game is rigged.
Instead of forming (new) relationships, we engage in online contests of so-called achievements and PBs (personal bests), of who is the smartest alec, of whose daddy has the biggest power-drill, of who’s right and wrong, and whether it is going to rain next week or not. At times, it feels more like an exercise in alienation and xenophobia, because, in reality, we don’t know the others (some of whom are bots) from a bar of soap.
Suffice to say, it is a mixed bag.
One would think that communicating with government, be it local or central, would be a lot easier than in the old days. Indeed, much can be done on-line nowadays. However, obtaining information under the OIA has become more like squeezing blood out of a stone, apparently. Politicians now communicate with the public through their professional media or comms teams. Accountability to the electorate has become a PR exercise, more than anything, for political expediency.
Obviously, there is more online engagement with political parties. However, media manipulation and propaganda is not more democracy, it is perverting the democratic and political process, and it is harming democracy.
The hallmark of democracy is not only that people have a say on their governance once every so many years, but also have at least some (…) influence on and over the actual process. Informally, people can make loud noises and display their displeasure with political decisions (or indecisions); they can make submissions and start petitions and all that. However, formally, not much has changed over a long time – the system and process are antiquated. In fact, people’s engagement with and trust in politics has been steadily dropping. This is not good for democracy. However, there are a few glimmers of hope.
There is no point blaming SM or technology for this or the lack of political progress. We have a tremendous set of tools and technology at our disposal and like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Der Zauberlehrling), we don’t seem to know how to wield the power properly; it may even work against us. With Climate Change breathing down our neck, we had better learn quickly and take our future in our own hands, for better or worse – this is democracy in its truest sense. The elites won’t save us, never have, and never will.