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Elizabeth Edwards on political discourse

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

At my earlier blog, Elizabeth Edwards joined a 2003 conversation about the quality of political discourse, making a distinction between political speech that is essentially marketing and speech that creates “a community of thought, analysis, and exchange.” Here is her entry:

As someone who has participated in online dialogues for years (previously in newsgroups, now in blogs), I have found there is an element on online dialogue that is inhibiting to political candidates (and surrogates) and maybe also inhibiting to productive analysis generally — and that is tone. There is an entertaining edge to online dialogue. In fact maybe there is an imperative of an entertaining edge — for it is easier to scroll past a dull online entry than even to reach for the remote to change the television channel. Maureen Dowd would be good at combining content and edge, but we are not all blessed with that talent or that license.

Even naming the entries on a weblog or a forum has become a form of marketing — “come, read me” — so the writer, blogger, poster feels compelled to whip up interest with a teaser and then feels to compelled to try to live up to the tease. (Of course, like many Hollywood trailers, often if you have read the title of the entry, you have read the best the author has to offer.) The compulsion can not be satisfied either — because each day the last day’s offering becomes stale and a new teaser is needed. Maybe even Maureen Dowd could not keep pace.

And for many bloggers and commenters, it is not about dialogue, it is in fact about marketing — in my present world, a candidate, and ultimately in every field, our point of view. The desire then to influence aggravates these structural shortcomings — more tease, more edge, more readers, more baiting responses so there are more comments — and with all of this, the elements of productive dialogue become less and less useful.

But I don’t despair. Serious blogs, and Lessig’s comes to mind first, have really become a community of thought, analysis, and exchange. Is that the model? I don’t know. I suspect there is not a single model. All I know is this comment is already too long for the medium and with each new sentence I lose yet another reader.

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