There’s growing awareness that the Internet plus attendant hardware (e.g., smartphones) and software (e.g., Twitter) have fundamentally altered most, if not all, aspects of life, including our perceptions of our experiences. A case in point is Rich Lowery’s National Review article, “Twitter Deranged Our Politics.”
“Twitter,” Lowery writes, “is Exhibit A for Marshall McLuhan’s axiom that the medium is the message.” This is to say, what’s most important about Twitter is not the messages on it and their effects but rather Twitter itself and its effects.
What are the effects of Twitter? According to Lowery, “Twitter has made politicians dumber and cruder. . . .distorted political reality for people across the spectrum.. . . [and] helped derange our politics.”This is a misunderstanding of the nature of Twitter. It’s more accurate, I believe, to see Twitter, not as a negative force (or, conversely, as a positive force; actually, it’s both, see below) but, instead, as an accelerant—or, a la McLuhan, an “amplifier.” an “intensifier”—of what already exists. By my way of thinking:
· Twitter has not “made politicians dumber and cruder.” Rather, Twitter clarifies and makes known to increasingly larger audiences just how dumb and crude disliked politicians are and, at the same time, clarifies and makes known to ever-larger different audiences just how smart and decent the admired ones are. Twitter spreads information fast; in this case, information about the character of America’s politicians. As a result of Twitter, we know more about our politicians than ever before.
- Twitter has not “distorted political reality for people across the spectrum.” Rather, Twitter has clarified and made known to more and more people across the spectrum the nature of the political system. As a result of Twitter, more people now understand what previously only a relatively few did (or were honest enough to say); namely that the political system is rigged, biased in favor of the wealthy and corporations.
- Twitter has not “helped derange our politics.” Rather, Twitter has helped clarify and make known to increasingly larger audiences the nature of our politics. Lots of people now understand that our politics—and this is true for politics in any other country—is first and foremost about power or office: how to get it, how to keep it. More people realize politics is not about service, bringing us together, or doing good. Twitter gets credit for helping to promote a more accurate view of politics.
Coexistence of Opposites
Twitter helps take the gloss of the establishment narrative and helps to inform us: “There is,” says Lowery, “plenty of worthy news coverage and real-time commentary on Twitter.” At the same time, Twitter disrupts our political processes and institutions. This coexistence of opposites should not blind us to Twitter’s worthy contributions, even beneficence.