Tools of Engagement

by Jim and Melanie

Before internet, talk radio, and social media platforms, it was not so easy to express your opinion in public. Your choices included speaking to the person(s) face-to-face, calling them, public demonstration, and writing a letter to the editor. Today, we have access to multiple tools that allow us to express our opinions and engage with those with whom we agree and disagree.

Is this a good thing? It can be argued both ways. I am like most people. I like having the tools to socialize with others. I enjoy discussion both in person and online. We are social beings. We band together with others who share our viewpoints. People have always been that way.

People have also always disagreed with others and their viewpoints. This aspect of human nature combines with our ubiquitous tools for engagement to cause some of the problems we are seeing today. The tools of social engagement have sharpened the differences between people.

One can express a multitude of reactions to a Facebook post by simply clicking a button. Nothing more is expected. One can give thumbs up or thumbs down on some online posts. One can call talk radio shows on a wide range of topics and express your good, bad, or ugly viewpoint. One can write the most vile of remarks in the comments sections of stories that don’t deserve that kind of treatment. Why?

In my opinion, it is not that people are any worse than ever before. I think they have too many easy tools to put their negative feelings out there at all times of day and on nearly everything online. These tools work too fast. In the past, we had to think over something we didn’t like. We had to go see the person(s). We had to organize a protest. We had to write a letter and wait for it to be published. Not today. It happens in seconds.

Recently, I read a reminder on Facebook of something I posted six years ago.

It’s time to stop viewing the other as always wrong, with nothing positive to offer. In our families, towns and communities, we accept differences of opinion and decide to work with
the things we agree on. It solves problems we face. Why make more trouble by being obstinate, unyielding and inflexible? Nothing gets done.

Things don’t seem any better than they were then. In fact, they seem worse.


12 thoughts on “Tools of Engagement

  1. Steve Morris

    I know how your feel, Jim. There are toxic comments out there. Some people seem to be monsters. But there are huge positives. Tools like WordPress bring together people from different continents, to exchange views and learn from each other. That’s a hugely powerful force. One negative comment can negate a hundred positive ones in our perception, but behind the hate, there is a huge amount of sharing, discussion, co-operation and learning unfolding.

  2. Jim Wheeler

    I suspect that there are just as many thoughtful people now as yesteryear, but what’s changed, as you say, is the medium. More people are engaged in the process, but the opinions of many appear to be merely reactive and insubstantial. The question then is, is this a net gain or a loss for constructive discourse? I think the jury’s still out, but whatever the answer, the media aren’t isn’t going to revert. Applying this insight to the current presidential campaigns, it seems to me that it’s responsible for the rise of a demagogue who, if elected, will be very bad for the country and the world.

    1. Jim Ruebush Post author

      We listened to an interview between David Axelrod and Jon Stewart done at the U of Chicago Institute of Politics. There were some very insightful comments by Jon about the role of the media. I’m sorry to not have the link at this typing. It would be easy to find with a web search.

      As you say, the jury is still out. Let’s hope for a positive decision.

  3. shoreacres

    Criteria for judging the popularity and success of media — both online and off — are changing, too, and the effects on discourse are real.

    The historically reliable radio news channel in Houston has a new motto. They no longer bring us breaking news, but “breaking information.” Breaking information includes trending topics from their Facebook page, popular web videos, and a general rehash of the Drudge report. Priority is given to stories guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of at least half of the listening audience, and the audience constantly is being urged to “like us on Facebook.” Every reporter or anchor has a Twitter account, and they urge listeners to follow them at 30 second intervals. Even the weather reports have been stripped down to, “It might rain. For more details, go to our web page.”

    On the web, of course, clickbait is the name of the game. Provocative posts, misleading headlines that misrepresent content, and scurrilous rumors reported as fact achieve their goal: getting people to hit that link. They also stir emotions, and engender arguments — which is the point, if your purpose isn’t civil discourse, but clicks.

    1. Jim Ruebush Post author

      You have hit the many nails on their heads. I put a link in a comment above to Jim Wheeler for a discussion with Jon Stewart about the various media and how they impact our interactions.

      Should I encourage you to click it? 🙂


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