Sitting in the press box at the Presidential Conference: Tomorrow 2013, what struck me was not the star-studded cast, the mind-blowing seminars or the lack of decent food. Rather the paradigm shift in media coverage is what left the strongest mark. Basking in the combined light of tweetdecks, wordpresses and facebooks, I realized that the news coverage at this event epitomized a total revolution in how we understand our world. The proliferation of virtual communication and social media has enabled the sharing of information at the speed of light. Anyone and everyone (myself included) can spread their word without the censorship or manipulation that often characterize what we are spoon fed from mainstream outlets.
This total freedom of press has exploded the very concept of what press is. We are now equal with the Ratherses and Walterses of the world, and some of us even have more followers. At the Conference as Dan Ariely spoke about information technology, all around me devices pinged and tweeted and buzzed and lit up the room. Unable to resist the irony of this convergence between stage and crowd, I joined the Army of Unearthly Glowness, opened my laptop and began writing this post.
For years I turned up my nose at blogging, tweeting and all other forms of writing that have undermined the syntactical integrity of the English language. But now I no longer see this digitization as bastardization, rather I see it as democracy. The proof is in the pudding; I sat in that press box with my press pass as an amateur blogger, and after years of resistance I finally became a Twit (I mean Tweeter). One cannot help but appreciate the positive force of this movement, who am I to tilt at windmills?
The world is hooked up, and its people have a voice that grows stronger with every new Twitter account. No traditional form of communication could be as efficient in mobilizing grassroots political protest, no amount of therapy could be as cathartic as blogging my innermost feelings and having hundreds of people respond with compassion, no snail mail could be as powerful at garnering support for critical humanitarian causes. This is a revolution in how we disseminate and receive information, and while it pains me deeply from the perspective of a verbose anglophile, it pleases me as an activist.
At this year’s Presidential Conference I was awed by the power of everyday laypeople to raise awareness, attract attention and generate dialogue. While watching my fellow bloggers tweeting each other while sitting a foot away from one another, getting updates in real time, sharing thoughts and expressing opinions, I was blown away by the force of social networking. However, every power has its dangers. As Dr. Ruth Westheimer articulately pointed out, this is a movement that has contributed to the deterioration of human relationships. The destruction of the word ‘friend’ is not to be taken lightly, the phenomenon of couples on a date each on their respective apparatuses is truly sad, the tragic suicide of a young person bullied on Facebook should give us pause, and the general disintegration of privacy and personal space requires that we all consider how technology is affecting our lives. This is the adverse trajectory of social media’s pendulum swing.
What separates these two expressions of the networking revolution is personal responsibility. There are those who use it for social change and those who use it for gossip. There are those who use it to promote their start-up businesses, like a friend of mine who designed drool-proof shirts inspired by his son with special needs, and those who use it to share videos of cats doing somersaults (not that there is anything wrong with that). There are those who use it to share family photos with distant friends and those who troll threads looking for fights, or worse. The good, the bad and the innocuous, it’s all hangin’ out there for the world to see and each of us must decide everyday where our virtual footprints will tread.
If what distinguishes the good from the bad is personal responsibility, and if we all have access to this powerful medium, ergo we all share in the duty to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Tim Armstrong of AOL expressed his wish that people turn off their phones one day a week to simply think. Dr. Ruth asked that people make time to hold hands at the movies. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff spoke eloquently about the importance of trust. Somewhere during my time at the Conference, the dulcet tones of beeping, buzzing and vibrating quieted long enough for me to hear an important message: social media is powerful and must be handled with caution.
It is an amazing world we live in, and amazing technology has shaped the way we interact with that world. We can use this technology for good or bad. We can allow it to completely take over our lives or learn when to disconnect. We are the new media, every one of us. We are the new politicians, every one of us. We are not elected or hired, we are not operating within the boundaries of someone else’s agenda, we are free. We are the people who can bring change, promote new ideas, help others and build relationships. With democracy comes mutual obligation. With great power comes great responsibility. In this new frontier of democratic press, we have been entrusted with a great deal of power.
Somehow I have found myself in the press box. Somehow a few kind people out there have taken the time to read my musings. That is an honor, and not something I take lightly. And so, it is with humility and pride that I join this incredible and articulate group of social media revolutionaries, many of whom I had the pleasure of sharing a press box with at the Presidential Conference last week. I am inspired and I am ready to jump on board: my new Twitter handle is @corinnieleh, lets do good things!