Twitter: A Disturbance in the Force of Dialogue
Sunday, January 21, 2017
(Pouring Rain with Flood Warnings!)
I have written recently about the problem with trusting the accuracy of the media. Last night offered a painful example of the problem. I watched CNN between 10p and 11p. The usual set of talking heads appeared on the screen. The ONLY topic they discussed was the controversy regarding Trump’s assessment of the size of the crowd at his inauguration. What?
How could this be? Earlier that same day, literally millions of American marched in the Women’s march protesting the Trump administration. Nothing about that in the one hour talking head-a-thon. The prior day, US airstrikes killed some 100 ISIS and Al Queda militants in Libya. And of course CNN viewers received no information — in that hour at least — regarding the status of the war in Afghanistan, the civil war in Syria, China’s concern about Trump, and more. Please seriously question whatever you read or see regarding the news in the world. Sadly, it’s become primarily a form of entertainment rather than a source of information.
This leads to a closely related concern regarding Twitter and the nature of interpersonal dialogue. As you know, this blog devotes itself primarily to psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Dialogue lies at the heart of that work. Patients consult psychotherapists stuck in their internal dialogues; much of the work of psychotherapy consists of bringing those intra-psychic dialogues into the interpersonal realm.
Trump’s use of Twitter, and the media’s response to same, represents a perversion in the idea of dialogue. True dialogue is complex. It is multi-layered. It requires patience. To learn what’s happening in the world, or in the life of your dear friend, requires time and patience. One needs to express oneself carefully; one needs to listen equally carefully.
I have been reading a book I highly recommend entitled, Inventing Human Rights. The author, Lynn Hunt, brilliantly traces the evolution of the idea of the “rights of man.” She believes the idea of human rights emerged towards the end of the 18th century. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), she cites the novel as significant in its evolution. Who would have thought? Her point is this: The novel, with some of its earliest versions taking the form of letters written between the characters (known as an epistolary novel), brought the idea of empathy into the public domain. Readers were fascinated to learn of the inner world of characters. They developed an increased sense of empathy. And, Hunt asserts, the earliest development of the concept of human rights involved an increased capacity for empathy.
This tangent directs me right back to Twitter, and its extremely problematic disruption in empathy as well as dialogue. Now that much of the world communicates through text or Twitter — both limited to 140 characters — nuance vanishes. Not enough space exists to communicate complexity, to listen and understand carefully.
Time will tell how this all plays out, but I think we are witnessing a national if not global decrease in the capacity for careful, deliberate empathy and dialogue — at a time these interpersonal skills are arguably more important than ever. Time will also tell if events like yesterday’s Women’s March elicits a dialogue between the parties to the significant schism in the American public.
Attempting to end this post on a positive note, I take some comfort from Hegel’s idea of history as progressing through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. If we are moving away from the complexities of dialogue into hurling 140 character simplistic slogans at one another, then we can only hope that a counter-movement, an antithesis, will emerge in coming months and years.
Submitted while attempting to stay dry and warm in the midst of a literal storm,
Hunt, L. (2007). Inventing Human Rights. New York: Norton.
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