May 182016
 

Silicon Valley and the avid users of social media, which is nearly everyone under a certain age, think that social media is great for society. I believe, like any technology, there are negative consequences that few appreciate.

What seems clear to me is that social networks — Facebook, Twitter, and the rest — are the key contributor to the political quagmire we see in Washington.

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There will always be programs that the nation must tackle that will not be popular but necessary. Social media allows a concentration of just a few voices to intimidate politicians into doing nothing, even when action is prudent. Left leaning factions pull their representatives more to the left, making them unwilling to reach across the aisle and compromise. The hard right does the same, barbeque-ing anyone who is willing to negotiate to make progress. Yet, the total number of activists is far less than 1% of the population. CNN, Fox, and all the traditional media outlets, all serve to amplify the views of those few yelling loudly in cyberspace.

I think it is comforting for Americans to blame (only) the politicians as the cause of quagmire in D.C. Let’s face it, the politicians should shoulder some of the blame, but blaming someone at the top is easy. The truth is that the greatest threat to progress is a generally uninformed, focused on one-issue-in-isolation public, joining causes on our incredible digital network, and essentially torpedoing the idea of negotiation, compromise, and progress as our founding fathers intended. The politicians listen to polls and the digital din.

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So how could we improve the situation, given that internet connectivity and the digital social world will not disappear? I don’t have all the answers, but I think short term limits (4 years max?) would help. If a senator was only going to be there for 4 years, perhaps they would hurry to leave a legacy. Today’s senators and representatives spend far too much energy on the pursuit of popularity and re-election. If re-election was off the table, good things might happen. We must start to negotiate and  compromise again — and stop listening to the activist few.

I.M. Optimisman

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