There is a saying that, ‘everyone’s a critic’. In 2016, this cliche should be changed to, ‘everyone’s Walter Cronkite…and a critic’. The advent of social media, and the accessibility of information has changed not only the tedium of everyday life, but politics and news completely.
As Jill Lepore argues in her February 22 New Yorker article, “The Party Crashers”, the development of new technologies in communication has consistently marked the beginning of party systems. Following Lepore’s line of historical observation, I agree with this assessment of the evolution of political parties and campaigns. Looking beyond just the changes in how information has spread since the 1840s, Lepore focuses on the effect of social media, and how it has ‘changed the game’.
Anecdotally, we probably all have noticed that we watch less television than ever before, and are now hooked at the hip to the world’s news via Twitter, Facebook, and even Snapchat. The same is true of our friends and family (excluding grandparents, who, for better or worse, perpetually watch Fox News). While I, myself, am an anomaly in this recent trend, I have seen a progression in this phenomenon, from 2008 on. Not only are most Americans kept up to date through social media, but they can interact with this sphere of global information like never before. The people, in a very populist sense, now direct the conversation in American politics. As Lepore puts it, Trump and Sanders – and by extension, voters – are “revolting against party élites”. I will call this an inherent good, even with its flaws.
The ability to broadcast one’s own opinions isn’t new, but in 2016, it is instant and far-reaching. We have all become our own journalists, detectives, conspiracy theorists, political commentators, and worst enemies. Lepore relates this last ‘occupation’ in her article “After the Fact”, which describes the danger of fact and truth being buried in what the public chooses to believe. As we look forward to 2020 and 2024, we should try to see around the next bend in technology, but also ask, am I making a real contribution to the conversation?