Reflecting on Digital Empowerment

I’ve been reflecting on the feedback I’ve gotten recently from comments in this blog and in public commentaries I’ve written. Here are a few thoughts:

  • The electronic, digital culture has arrived. In addition to traditional (or old) media venues, the national dialogue is taking place now in blogs, e-mail, chat rooms, electronic forums (fora, if you are really traditional) and other Internet-based settings, and they will increasingly become central to the exchange of ideas and information-sharing.
  • Digital media are empowering. They make it possible for individuals to reach people directly with their messages and they make it easier to gather a wide database of information. There’s been plenty of discussion about the credibility and trustworthiness of some of this information, but that aside, it’s possible to go to many sources of information that in the past were not easily accessible to the average person.
  • Digital media are creating a new form of multi-platform storytelling. Plenty has been said and written about convergence. It’s a reality and it will only become more common because we want to see, hear, read and react to information today. We are more experiential and involved.
  • The dialogue is profoundly different in immediacy, participation and reach because of these media. They not only empower individuals as no other media have done (at least to my knowledge), they make it possible to give feedback and stimulate action. This is different from the traditional media which are less interactive and in many cases less timely.
  • The quality and character of the dialogue is changing. I’ve gotten literate, thoughtful and deeply moving email about the Schaivo episode, for example. I also got a note that was written in the heat of anger and I doubt the individual would have said the same things to me in person that he wrote in his email. Immediacy coupled with anger isn’t a good mix if it results in words that stop the conversation.
  • The new media allow us to frame the conversation. Framing is critically important. Contemporary mainstream journalism made a turn somewhere in the past few years toward isolating messages (sound bites), often by leaving out context and presenting the most controversial voices. I hear, read and see stories today that don’t even include the old standards–“who, what, when, where, why and how.” Stories are framed as if there are only two opposing positions. This “either-or” form of storytelling doesn’t really get at the complexities that lie somewhere in the middle. It’s sensational and often it’s just plain sloppy journalism. New media allow us to tell our own story.

I welcome your thoughts about these new media and how they are affecting you. I will continue to reflect on these changes because it seems to me the new media are giving us a creative new opportunity to shape the civic community. The question is, what shape will that community take?

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