Is technology making political campaigns (even) dumber?

Some believe that the instant nature of technology means that campaigns get lost in tit-for-tat insider maneuvering, while avoiding the big picture. Is this true?

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Every time there's supposedly big news on the campaign trail, I fear acid reflux.

What accusations will some fine politician toss at another fine politician in order to sway my stomach -- and thereby my vote?

What ridiculous, illegitimate assertion will be barked by one politician that will spur an opponent to retweet, regurgitate, or resign?

I had always thought politics a grubby business, one in which the energy behind the lie is even more important than the lie itself.

And yet, some esteemed figures believe that the level of political discourse has been brought even lower by technology.

The New York Times' David Brooks offered this searing assessment of technology's stupidifying influence:

Technology is making campaigns dumber. BlackBerrys and iPhones mean that campaigns can respond to their opponents minute by minute and hour by hour. The campaigns get lost in tit-for-tat minutiae that nobody outside the bubble cares about.

One would have imagined that minutiae tend to be rather intelligent things -- the details upon which policies can stand or fall.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It also seems as if, when a politician declares that a woman is unlikely to get pregnant after a "legitimate" rape, technology offers a very swift means to both rebuff and humiliate.

Yet Brooks continued: "Use of the Internet means that Web videos overshadow candidate speeches and appearances. Video replaces verbal. Tactics eclipse vision."

Must we really believe that everyone is enamored of the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth at least 3,000? Can it really be that we, the dumb electorate, are only moved by images that move and rarely stop to think about the words being said?

It's odd to imagine that is true. Politicians are all attempting to create some sort of human connection that will persuade us to saunter along to our local school hall and put a cross next to their name.

But aren't many human relationships often spoiled by words, rather than deeds? Isn't "he said what?" the core of so much interpersonal dysfunction?

Technology has surely magnified politicians' words. They come at us faster. They come at us more frequently. They come at us from more angles.

The existence of more immediate means of communication has forced politicians -- just like so many media -- to offer more content, or at least to appear to.

But isn't one reason that so much of this content is mendacious and vacuous that technology can more quickly expose politicians for who they are?

The more times we see their faces and bodies on screen, the more we notice that their eyes are truly shifty, their smiles fixed and frigid, their shoulders absurdly tight.

The more times we see (or hear) their words on screen, the more we can pore over them, compare them, read rebuttals, and, yes, listen to counter-arguments.

Of course, not many people will do that. They will take a soundbite here, another there and make a very unsound meal out of them.

Technology doesn't force an emphasis on tactics as opposed to vision. Instead, it makes politicians act scared because they are so much more afraid of being exposed. It turns them into the equivalent of the middle manager with the irascible boss.

Don't say too much of substance, don't do too much for which you'll be held responsible. Stick to playing, well, politics.

Wouldn't the truly talented politician be the one who used technology to make words come to life, with a more true, 3-dimensional meaning that can make people understand who they are and what they truly stand for?

Despite all this technology supposedly dumbing things down, I would bet that the majority of Americans neither understand Obamacare nor Paul Ryan's alternative.

I would bet that the majority of Americans have no true idea of what sort of America each candidate would like to see and lead.

And, of course, everyone gets TARP, right?

For all their fanciful words and YouTube channels, politicians tend not to use technology to express and explain. They certainly don't use it to lead. They use it to incite, scare, and sell you a T-shirt.

Technology doesn't make campaigns dumber. It makes politicians and their operatives more frightened.

Just as in any human relationship, you say the most stupid things when you're scared.

 

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