Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Letter from the President

I've been in touch with the President. I received my first email from President Obama right after he was elected. He wrote to thank me for the part I played in his becoming president. This amounted to my making a donation of $250 toward his campaign. Before the election I'd received numerous email updates from his campaign manager, but only after he was elected did I get one that ended with: Sincerely yours, Barack. I knew it was the same email that millions of other Americans probably received, but it still seemed special. Together, we'd done something pretty amazing.

With the midterm elections upon us, I receive regular emails from Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and numerous other Washington politicians. And that doesn't begin to account for the emails I receive from political organizations. If only I would send another $225, which will be matched by a mystery mogul, we could ensure that a Democratic majority is maintained in the U.S. Congress. So if I send my $225, does that mean that the rest of the Democratic Party machinery will know about it, that I did my part? I have my doubts. And what exactly would that money be used for?

Our national elections have devolved to audio/video shouting matches. The primary beneficiaries are the media outlets who air them. They're in a win-win situation. The stakes are high this election cycle, and both sides are determined to prevail. It's all about ad-dollars and saturation. Forget about civic innovation. Rhetoric has replaced innovation in our national discourse. Complex questions have been reduced to us-and-them sound bites. Our election process and our congress are in serious need of reinvention.

A recent faux-headline in The Onion had the American people hiring a lobbyist so they could get some things through congress. It's a funny concept, but perhaps not all that far from reality. One of the fundamental flaws in our system is that elected officials—especially those at the national level—are beholden to those who paid for their campaigns. And now more than ever, those are corporations. The government, aka the people, will have to wait in line.

Knowing this, I feel just a little strange sending off my $225 contribution, when it will simply be used to extend the broadcast madness. Does it really make sense to hit on the average voter for financial support while the congress spends billions like there's no tomorrow? There's got to be a better and fairer way to run a democracy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10,000 Friends

I recently ran into one of my Facebook friends in a public situation. There was a mutual feeling of unease when we recognized each other, almost a kind of embarrassment. We barely know each other, yet we've probably shared some fairly personal moments via Facebook. Our connection originated from having Facebook friends in common, and we'd relied on those connections as justification for our being Facebook friends. This got me thinking about the depth of these connections, both with people you know and those you don't really know.

Andy Warhol once said, "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." Likewise, I think it could be said, in the future everyone will have 10,000 friends. While ten thousand might sound like a large number, in the context of a Facebook-connected world it is not so large. If you had only 100 Facebook friends and you allowed each of those friends to share your posts with 100 unique friends from their Facebooks, you'd have 10,000 connections. And that's only going out two degrees.

But I find myself asking: are these connections real? Even with people I know well, I find that communication via Facebook has its limitations. Sure, it's fun to share photos, comments and interesting links, but this is a far cry from actually being in the same room with someone. While Facebook has become a great tool for locating long lost friends, I find that it leaves me with a less-than-satisfied feeling after slogging through the news feed for an hour. I feel like I've been cheated, wasted my time in a quest for some real conversation.

Facebook posts are like dismembered conversations. We speak at each other, not to each other. Facebook allows us put in our two cents, but these conversations seem to lack the connectedness of actually being there. In a way, we are less accountable. Have we become spoiled in our splendid isolation? Have we dumbed down the meaning of the word "friend?"

My real friends deserve better.