It's easy to reflect philosophically on the election when you win. Sweep in fact. And it's nice to be able to listen to the news again.
Last I heard, estimates were that this election cost six billion dollars. Six billion. Dollars. That's a lot of really good schools. Especially since very nearly everyone already knew who they were voting for before anyone had spent a penny. And especially since in most states it didn't matter anyway. What I've been thinking is that the technology inGoodbye For Now could have saved everyone a lot of time and money. The idea behind RePose is that it reads your emails and tweets and FB posts and such and figures out 1) who you should be dating and 2) the sorts of things you say and how you say them. It could also, far more easily I expect, figure out who you're going to vote for. Even better, it can figure out who you should be voting for. You may be undecided, but the software knows. Think of the money we could save. Think of the time and effort and energy. Obama must be exhausted. The man had to run for president while also being the leader of the free (and not so free) world. This is like pitching game seven of the World Series during halftime of the Superbowl you're quarterbacking. It defies belief.
And much respect to Nate Silver, but I wonder what the miracle is here. That he was right? Or that the answer was knowable? Much has been discussed (in, say, census conversations) about whether actually asking everyone is the best way to vote/count/decide. If we already know, why/how do we ask? There are answers to that question, but they're not easy and they're not quite being widely discussed and they're not bipartisan, which makes them even harder.
Washington state is entirely vote-by-mail now, so in fact I voted a month before election day. I missed going to the polls because there is great camaraderie in standing in line for several hours with one's neighbors attempting to do something civic. My neighborhood is very African-American which made waiting to vote for Obama that much more stirring. I also remember voting with my mom when I was very little, her bringing me behind the curtain with her and letting me pull the lever -- that's stuck with me, and it would be nice for D to have that experience, that memory, and that civic understanding. Would it be as nice as it is not to have to stand in the rain for three hours waiting to vote? No. As nice as it is not to have to miss a day of work to vote? No. As nice as it is not to have to find daycare in order to vote? No. As nice as it is to be able to vote even if you can't get to the polls? No. So I'm with my once and future president on this one: we have to fix that.
Online Echo Chamber
This appeared late last week in my Twitter feed from HuffPost Books:
QOTD: "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking." --Haruki Murakami
I a) love this and b) agree with it, and c) the next book, whenever I find time to write it, comes at least in part from a similar sentiment. The whole online echo chamber theory, well, it echoes for me. And it's scary. The argument is that as we get more and more of our news and ideas and philosophies and opinions and information and life approaches and narratives -- stories -- from Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites where we choose our friends and choose who to follow, the range of said ideas and stories gets narrower and narrower. We are friends with people who think like we do. They are friends with people who think like they/we do. We and they are all passing back and forth the same tidbits of information, liking and retweeting and sharing the same articles and notes and opinions and stories. Plus every time we say anything, everyone we know "likes" it and tells us how lovely and clever we are, not just because they're friends but because they actually agree. Not enough new ideas can muscle in through all that familiarity.
Maybe they should call it the Narcissus Chamber. Which one of these kids looks most pleased with their own opinions and ideas?
This versus, say, you used to read the newspaper that was your town or city's paper. I grew up between Baltimore and DC and so read the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post. They got delivered to my door. In theory, the news they delivered was broad, unbiased, wide-reaching, multi-opinioned, and multi-perspectived. It was also, importantly, researched, vetted, double-checked, edited, proofread, and held to standards of truth. This is not, of course, true of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Social media and the internet generally are sold to us as great levelers of playing fields and democratizers of ideas and access. Once, you had to own a newspaper to get your voice and ideas heard. Now, all you need is access to a computer and an internet connection. As receivers of information though, in a lot of ways, we were doing better before. I hear more voices now, but they're all saying the same thing.
You see why that's dangerous and problematic. And disappointing given the freedom and possibilities presented by the web. And insidious given our impression that it's the opposite of what it in fact is.
And yet...last week, when President Obama came out and said he did indeed think same-sex marriage ought to be legal, my Twitter feed did a little dance, my Facebook had a party, the links my people passed on were all laudatory and celebratory and smart from a pro civil rights, pro gay marriage perspective. That's all I wanted to read, and that's all that came across my radar. Was Fox News as thrilled as my social media peeps? Was the Republican Party? I don't know. Because their opinions never crossed my computer screen. My Facebook friends are not anti-gay. My Twitter feed is liberal and loving. It was awesome.
So the question you have to ask yourself is this: is it important for me to seek out dissenting opinions? Important for my education or for being a whole person in the world? A responsible decision maker? Haven't I something to learn from the fifty percent of people in this country who seem to disagree with me about all sorts of political issues? Given that I believe that if only the gay-marriage haters would listen to something other than hate-spewing media, they'd realize the error of their ways, shouldn't I also try to break out of my online echo chamber? Or is it permissible for me and my lower blood pressure to bubble and cocoon and ignore the haters? There's enough broken, enough hate, enough that doesn't go my way in politics, enough that makes me crazy, don't my Twitter feed and I deserve to high five then go out for margaritas and celebrate the ones we win?
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.