It is increasingly difficult to read about American politics in the newspapers without having to endure stories of what used to be widely understood to be unacceptable stupidity and/or temerity. Why is it so easy for politicians, political partisans, interest group leaders, activists, journalists, and commentators to make so many absurd mistakes and transparently flawed judgments on a routine basis without losing their jobs, credibility, or audience?
Is this sad state of affairs one of the unintended consequence of the great democratization of information represented by the Internet and 24/7 electronic news media?
Over the past 20 years, teaching political science has given me what seems to be a front row seat to the positive and negative effects of the “information” age. My window into the thoughts and thinking of Americans has been through an annual sampling of 18 to 25 year old college students. Since the creation of social media (particularly Facebook), my live sampling has been significantly augmented. The 1000 plus folks with whom I am connected on Facebook come from all points on the American moral, intellectual, and political spectrum. Unlike my students, my Facebook friends stick around and are accessible constantly.
My efforts to be attentive to the quality of the thinking of my little slice of the population has yielded one particular concern, namely the apparent reduction in people’s willingness and/or capacity to appreciate the role of “context” in the formation of substantive conclusions. I seem to spend more and more time each year, in class and on Facebook, trying to explain the role of context in the analysis and evaluation of human behavior. The urge and incentives to over simplify the behavior of political actors is, of course, nothing new, but the ease with which we can do so seems to have gotten a bit out of hand.
I can’t help think that today’s easy access to information amounts to tourism in a world where being well traveled (virtually and otherwise) is a poor substitute for an education. Who said this about tourism? Better google it.