“Often we create prisons for ourselves [and others] by thinking and talking in certain ways. Just shifting the way we use words can be enough to let us out.” (Macaro and Bagini, 2014)
During the past week, I was with many talented and powerful women. Two stand out: a former Tenth Circuit Clerk who now fights constitutional battles for the poor with elegant and moving prose; a young woman litigator who boxes, works at an animal shelter, volunteers time for safe passage for women needing services from Planned Parenthood, and indexes historical writings for NARF. I wonder how they rise – so often.- and with such grace and acumen. This week, my friend Sarah Moshman gave her first Ted Talk on women heroes. I met Sarah several years ago when she was on a journey to discover for herself “what would you do if you were not afraid?” This resulted in The Empowerment Project Documentary, in which Sarah told the stories of ordinary women who have done extraordinary things.
Conversations with these women and others who inspire me are much longer than 140 Characters and they are always face to face. They are not tweets; the conversations are rich and thoughtful. What I noticed about these encounters is that negative words and meanness is not there. They are discussions about visions, futures, action, and kindness. They fundamentally consider how people create good lives for themselves and others. These talks use words about generosity and inclusiveness. And overtime I have the blessing of being in communication in this bubble, I am inspired and forget being tired.
I am not on twitter or social media that is political anymore. I looked at twitter, and I saw that there was so much hostility and “I’m right and you’re wrong” packed into only 140 words over and over and over. Nothing was being built, except exceptionalism in insults. (A talent that the British have truly mastered with their command of English.) I saw that getting followers was the goal so that a feed could be commoditized or used to get attention or power? The outrageous were outdoing the outrageous. To what result? Will parents tweet their children as their only form of communication. Maybe we will soon be able to simply send an electronic brain shock to another person and hope to be shocked back. Who can stand the most shocks? The notion that electronic media is degrading society is nothing new. But the “skimming” non related, negative flood of communication is.
Chose five words of acknowledgment, encouragement, creativity, forgiveness, connectivity that you will use every day this week and see what happens. Only if you want to explore this idea in depth, read further, If you don’t (I understand), consider using 140 a day to encourage another, to create, to resolve, to connect.
Thank you Kat, Lucy and Sarah for sharing your visions with me this week. Now let’s go make it happen!
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in his book in 1964, the Extensions of Man, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. McLuhan is known for coining the expressions the “medium is the message” and the “global village”, and for predicting the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (written in 1961, first published in Canada by University of Toronto Press in 1962) is mosaic mash up in print of media, that pre-mimics internet surfing. Throughout the book, McLuhan demonstrates how media affects cognitive organization, which in turn has profound ramifications for social organization:
…[I]f a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent.
Shocking to think that we toss expressions invented in 1960’s around today as novel notions. But is this all really “new,” and should we be afraid. What was the thinking among the lawyers when youth started watching television or swiveling their hips to Elvis? “Television has attracted young viewers since broadcasting began in the 1940s. Concerns about the effects of television on young children emerged almost immediately, and have been fueled by a steady stream of academic research showing a negative association between television viewing and student achievement. These findings have made the introduction and diffusion of television a popular explanation for trends such as the decline in average verbal SAT scores during the 1970s (Wirtz et al, 1977; Winn, 2002), and the secular decline in verbal ability across cohorts (Glenn, 1994).” See Does Television Rot Your Brain? New Evidence from the Coleman Study Matthew Gentzkow, Jesse M. Shapiro, University of Chicago (2006). Does this sound familiar?
This isn’t just the musing of curmudgeons as science writer Jonathan Gitlin noted that “there are a number of scientific studies that back up many of these points, such as the one that showed that receiving e-mail messages affected volunteers’ performance during IQ tests more than a toke on a joint, although I’m yet to hear of anyone smoking a spliff at work and trying to claim that it’s not an issue because ‘Bob over there is checking his e-mail.'”
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.” Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep comprehension. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.”