Twitter finished what the 30-second commercial started in the 1990s – reducing our attention spans from minutes to microseconds. The visualization of content hasn’t helped. It’s so difficult to get and keep someone’s attention these days that our political leaders are resorting to ludicrous visualizations to create hysteria, rather than clarity and reason.
Take the healthcare/Medicare debate. The right wing’s description of “death panels” for the elderly, to derail President Obama’s health plan in 2009, started it. Then the left countered with a commercial showing a helpless, wheel-chair-bound “grandma” being pushed off a cliff – to express outrage over Congressman Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare.
Once again, each side is casting the other side as evil. Come on, folks, this isn’t helping anyone. I’m reminded of the time when I had to tell my young sons to “use your words” when they were angry or scared about something or someone.
As far as healthcare is concerned, private enterprise in our free-market system and government-funded safety-net programs for seniors will continue to work in tandem in the future. Refinements will be made according to economic and political necessity. Everyone knows this, so why play games.
In his book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell writes about “rapid cognition… the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye.” In many ways, he captures the real power of visual communications. But because that power can be used to oversimplify and distort, we’ve got to go elsewhere for solid information.
Is a picture still worth a thousand words? Not anymore. By being bombarded by special-effected visuals at almost every turn, we don’t know what’s real, what’s true. As I told my sons, words are the answer. Which is why reading is still the best way to clearly understand an issue, an idea or even a brand.
What’s also needed: a more literate electorate. That’s why places like the Mercy Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, are so important, providing basic literacy and life skills for low-income women. As their motto states, “Educate a woman…Educate a family.” I might add, “Educate a woman…Educate a community.” We also need guidance from organizations like The Media Literacy Project, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which provides training in how to understand media bias in all forms.
And you may want to find someone, like me, who can use language effectively to make the critical distinctions between issues, ideas or brands, so yours stands out – without resorting to distortion and hyperbole.
As the writer Rita Mae Brown once said, “Language exerts hidden power like the moon on the tides.” People hunger for clarity, for reality, nuance, even heartfelt disagreement, so they can make the best choices for themselves and the nation. Discuss.