Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

Post Politics

Social Media are being blamed for the development of closed tribal spaces in this, one of the most challenging political and cultural landscapes I have experienced in my lifetime. But, if the answers to polarization and closure were simply the result of tribal and narrow instincts then it might be possible to develop new strategies and new approaches to the challenges that face us. Rather, what happened to the middle of the ground reasoning and rational social modeling? When did the capacity to engage in careful and respectful discussion disappear? Why the rush to quick conclusions based on fragmentary evidence? What is the desire to harden positions before they are fully understood, about? It is not only the election in the US, but the general movement in many countries to lock into viewpoints that generally have little evidence attached to them and more specifically represent narrow points of departure for thinking that should be deeper and broader to better account for complexity and the challenges that face us. It is just not possible to blame the advent of social media for this. Social media simply express and represent all these tendencies which pre-exist their availability. Rather, the return to tribalism and the severity of the boundaries between tribes anticipates what McLuhan once suggested about the advent of mass media in the 1960's. The only way to make sense of the proliferation of ideas and forms of expression across numerous media is to isolate oneself and one's closest associates to create and maintain boundaries that at a minimum strengthen, although superficially, the core of the group. Much of what then happens is actually oral. The written word is more incidental and when writing is used the outcomes sound like they have been spoken. What social media do generate is a repetitive use of language for often different and complex events. This repetition reinforces and solidifies existing metaphors and modes of expresssion. Most posts are similar to each other and their shortness tends to make it appear as if options have solidified. The reduction of written language into an oral form means that longer texts and more developed arguments have to shift to live meetings and actual encounters. The answer to the proliferation of social media is to find as many ways as possible of meeting in person so that differences can be confronted and argued and perhaps changed.