Over a year ago, I launched The Weekly with a simple focus:
“You’re not a spectator and democracy is not a game. You’re a citizen who gets a say in the future of our community. That comes with a responsibility though – to stay informed, to debate honorably, and to forge consensus on moving forward. The more informed we are, the better community we create. It’s all about being informed instead of just opinionated.”
Since then, I’ve been to countless public meetings, interviewed officials, and worked to bring that all together into quality information that keeps our community informed. It’s my part of putting in the work and helping to make our own community just a bit more perfect. And I think that first civic responsibility – to stay informed – has been pushed forward over the last year.
Those two other responsibilities – to debate honorably and to forge consensus – I don’t know if that’s been accomplished. In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about those and how to best work toward that. What I’ve come to believe is two-fold.
Social Media Dialogue Hurts Instead of Helps
Social media is a double edged sword. On the downside, you get the amplified version of the old telephone game. This research from the Nieman Foundation puts it best:
“But what’s clear is that Mark Zuckerberg’s January 2018 exhortation that users’ activity on Facebook be “time well spent” has not come to pass: Instead, it’s often an angry, reactive place where people go to get worked up and to get scared.”
On the upside, it’s also a powerful resource for our community, like we saw during the flood with updates coming from local government accounts. Those were quickly and easily shared to get the information out.
To me, that says that social media is great for putting out information but it’s not the right tool for debating and forging consensus. It’s all about winning and dunking-on anyone that disagrees. When talking about the pressing issues of our community, the conversation trends toward emotional comments that keep any constructive dialogue from happening, much less any work towards a consensus.
Can online conversations happen in good faith with people engaging in debate? Absolutely! We’ve seen it happen in the Open Forums. But it’s not happening in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media apps. For now, that means using social media for what it’s good for – a tool to amplify information (and sharing cute photos of your kids and dogs). Social media isn’t meant for engaging in bad-faith conversations that don’t push the conversation forward or end in meaningful change.
We have to learn to disagree better. We have to debate better. And that means reworking how we engage online and working better towards debate and consensus.
Information vs Action
Working towards consensus means having information as well as being able to act on it.
Whenever I shared a new podcast episode, I’d get emails back saying essentially, “Ok – thanks for this. But what do I do with this info? What’s next?”. We had the information but didn’t know how to act on it.
I was talking with a friend about this problem. She pointed me towards President Obama’s farewell speech. When I read through that speech, I found in it an idea that really stuck with me. No matter what you thought of him as a president, I think we can all agree that these words resonate within us. He said:
“Our democracy needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
That’s when the lightbulb moment happened. My own work needs to shift from information only into information plus action. We have to learn how to be better citizens that can take what we learn and act.
To that end, the podcast here at The Weekly is wrapping up. As a dad with a full-time job, it’ll be near impossible to juggle that plus this new focus of work.
If you’re like me – wanting to make a change in our community – and you’re not sure where to start, send me an email here. There’s plenty of work that can be done, especially when there’s a collective voice acting to make an impact. We’re going to learn to be better, more active citizens together.
I’ve found that when you work with people that are passionate at moving our community forward, remarkable things can happen. It’s been said that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. I think we can do the same here in our community.
And if you just want to debate an idea or issue facing our community, let me know. We’ll sit down – offline over a cup of coffee – and chat.