Twitter and the Erosion of our Political Imagination

photo (1)I won’t bore you by dwelling on the now familiar criticism that social media networks like Twitter degrade our decision making abilities by information overload, leading to mental exhaustion, and eventually the dreaded state of  “INFO-PARALYSIS“. Nor am I interested in harping on the lightning proliferation of propaganda warbling out of the ceaseless Twitterverse. Further, I’m not up for articulating whether the “Twitterization” of traditional political jargon represents (depending on your tastes) a more transparent form of discussion or the idiocracy of “knuckleheaded” netspeak. Rather, I’d like to draw your attention to something less obvious, and more fundamental: the extent that these rapidly chirping networks may be asphyxiating our political imaginations.

Unlike our neighbours to the South, we Canadians have had three major political options to choose between. We aren’t demanded to make a choice between clear-cut ‘opposites’, but to mull over the platforms of three distinct ideological positions. We traditionally haven’t thought – exclusively – in terms of an easily definable choice between Left and Right. In fact, our three party system may have acted as a kind of prophylaxis against the mind-numbing ‘CNN vs. FOX’ political rhetoric the American electorate is gorged with. But all the signs and portents – from the plight of our moderate political options to the establishment of SUN-TV – suggest that the allure of American-style easy choice politics is slowly winning us over. These are all complex, difficult and multifaceted issues, but what do they have to do with Twitter?

ruck-us-breaks-up-party-politics-on-the-social-web-595ee408bcTwitter is the communication medium par excellence for an electorate with a choice between POLITICAL BINARIES as opposed to (three or more) POLITICAL SINGULARITIES. Binaries are notoriously easy to articulate: when I say ‘Devil’, you think ‘is the opposite of Angel’, when I say ‘Black’, you think ‘is the opposite of White’, when I say ‘Male’, the traditional connotation is ‘not Female’. Hence, when you’re provided 140 characters to convey the day’s political news, it is not advantageous (and nearly impossible) to create a single Tweet about three (or more) unique positions. It’s in your interest to ignore the middle (or moderate) positions, and articulate the news in the form of a QUIP about either pole of a Left-Right political binary. [Quip: A clever, witty remark often prompted by the occasion] How depressing is it to see the American news media continuously exalt the ‘democratic’ aspect of  these warbling quips without acknowledging that one can be witty, charming, and timely, but remain a total numskull.

Liberal-vs-ConservativeThe 140 character limit works in some instances (breaking news, crises, etc…) but in the realm of political opinion, it reduces the complexity and robustness of our ideas. One commentator has offered the keen insight that  “Twitter is to reasonable discourse what yellow post it notes are to serious literature“. i.e. There’s no room for character analysis: everyone is either hero or villain. There is simply no space here for greys, twilights or bisexualities. And as in a FEEDBACK LOOP, the political structure adapts to its mouthpiece, and squeezes out the space for moderate policies rooted in gradual, well thought change.

Liberal-Conservative_KA robust liberalism depends on communication mediums that exercise, expand and challenge our ideas. We are rapidly losing the ability to articulate the third (and fourth and fifth) options that keep our political system from sliding into binary caricatures of Left and Right. It would be a shame to follow our neighbours to the South in celebrating the democratic aspect of Twitter at the expense of our political imagination.


~ by dccohen on February 24, 2013.

2 Responses to “Twitter and the Erosion of our Political Imagination”

  1. “…in the realm of political opinion, it reduces the complexity and robustness of our ideas. ” – So true. One way to go around the character limit is by using Twitter to link to a longer blog – but how many will actually click on that?

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