Monday, February 28, 2011

Actions Speak Louder than Tweets

It took me a while to find my Twain quote for the week. I wanted to reflect a bit on the hype (and here I include the counter-hype, rehyping, and überhype) surrounding social media and changing the way to view and/or act in social movements. The issue, cut to the root, seems to be the difference between media revolutionizing the way we revolutionize, or just the way we are made aware of said revolutions*. What does Mr. Clemens have to say about media and social change? Nothing too positive, which does not surprise me, and seems to outline the inevitable collapse of this new form of communication. Nothing that The Poet disapproves of could ever create long-lasting positive change in society, and I am sire that if he were alive today, he would be just as skeptical, if not morsel, as many of us our today.

“Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”
— Mark Twain

Applied to modern issues, this commentary can be interpreted in many ways. Firstly, on the theme of social uprisings against unjust regimes, it inspires hope and determination in people organizing to fight for liberty, justice, and other pre-approved democratic hypotheses. Second, it damns the people that fancy themselves to be social commentators, pedestrian philosophers, PD scholars, newspapermen, talking heads, critics, and basically anyone else who dares come between individual humans and the horrible events that we create around ourselves. Third, it foreshadows the eventual collapse of blog celebrities, Twitter empires, and the five seconds of fame phenomenon, just as traditional journalism has faded into distant memory.

I am firmly planted in the camp that acknowledges these media as a new form of expression, but I refuse to accept the idea that our postmodern hyperconnectedness is actually creating impetus for social action that did not exist before. While our methods may evolve, our simmering desire for healthy democratic structures our a constant throughout human history. I do not care how many celebrity delegations Jared Cohen leads to foreign nations in the name of social diplomacy, or how many bored liberal Americans join the "Ted will chug ten gallons of Pabst if the rebels can other throw Gaddafi**" group on Facebook, we have been using whatever technology had been available to us to overthrow tyrannical regimes since the carrier pigeon, and that will continue until we reach a singularity.

Cultural diplomacy, exchange programs, and International broadcasting, on the other hand, are tools that I can proudly stand behind. Rick Steves, a journalist-cum-travel activist of sorts, Recently wrote an op-ed for USA Today in defense of PBS and NPR, which are meant for a domestic audience, yes, but are dogged by many of the same criticisms as public diplomacy projects. We need to wholeheartedly support our programs, domestically and abroad in order for them to function properly. They strengthen groups that are positively inclined toward America, and weaken those that see our strengths as weaknesses. While this benefit may be more nuanced than simply keeping tabs on the number of listeners, it is no less important. Mark Twain saw that overintrusive media was a problem, not a solution, and I think that we will be better off when we do as well.


*That was a more comlex sentence than I wanted it to be.
**As far as I know, this group does not actually exist, but it might.

1 comment:

  1. References to Mark Twain and Rick Steves in one post. Props.