Twice in the last couple of months, we have seen politicians suffer serious political blowback from posting memes on social media. One was a legislator, one was a mayor. One from the right, one from the left. Two noisy mistakes.
Casper Mayor Bruce Knell and Laramie Rep. Karly Provenza each violated a fundamental axiom of human communication, that being “engage brain before opening mouth.”
Lord knows what prompted them to hit the “send” button before considering the possible consequences of their post. Perhaps they thought they could score easy political points with their base. Perhaps they thought their chosen meme would be code only understood by those “in the know”.
It's more likely they didn’t think much at all, relying instead upon an appeal to the part of the reader that doesn’t think much either. There is a lot of that going around these days, and it's not confined to politicians.
A meme or an emoji on social media is an attempt to reduce a complex issue and the mental rigor necessary to grasp it to a smiley face, a flame or a turd. It expresses the visceral, not the intellectual.
In today’s world, information comes at us from every angle, from limitless sources and at warp speed. It's no wonder that our minds have trouble keeping up with this rapid-fire flood, let alone being able to articulate intelligent responses to the cacophony of white noise.
Here’s a case in point. In the year I was born, this column would have been written in longhand, or typed on an old upright typewriter. It would then make its way to a proofreader and an editor. From those desks, it would go to a typesetter or platemaker, and from there to the layout desk and finally to the printer.
Once on paper, a paperboy on a bike would toss it on your porch or in your flowerbed, and you’d wander out in slippers to pick the newspaper up and read it with your morning coffee. The whole process could take three or four days.
If something in my column made you spew coffee through your nose, you’d need to respond by writing a letter. You would (hopefully) gather your thoughts and compose a pithy response. Then you’d need to seal, address and put a stamp on the letter.
The mailman would collect your letter the next day and deliver it to the newspaper, where your response would follow the same process as my column before appearing in print. That process would take at least a couple more days.
So, figure a week between my composing the column and your angry response. A week of thinking and writing to close the intellectual loop.
Nowadays, the whole process can happen nearly instantaneously with a keystroke or two and a snarky meme or emoji.
This is the hyper-drive reality of the internet age in which we find ourselves. There’s scarcely time to absorb one idea before the next one bombards us. The human mind struggles to keep up.
Almost like a defense mechanism against this onslaught of information, we dash of a couple of ill-chosen words or an inarticulate image, just to prove to the rest of the world that we’re keeping up, that we are engaged with the world around us.
We’re all guilty of such mental laziness, present company included.
But we should expect more of our elected officials. We entrust folks with election certificates to carefully weigh the issues that confront us, to think about solutions and to consider the consequences.
To be sure, politicians have the same First Amendment right to freedom of expression that we all do. But, given how their words and actions affect the entire body politic, it's fair to expect of them a greater degree of thought before they speak or act.
Here endeth the lesson.
Rod Miller can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org