Talking to Ourselves

This post is not my usual brand of sociology of information. It’s true that the topics I’m including under that title DO veer off in the direction of media and journalism and related public discourse realms, but since there are already well established and well defined fields that study that stuff, I’ve felt there’s no reason for the sociology of information to be intellectually imperialist in its aspirations.

But just the same….

My local radio station is fund-raising this week. During one of the pledge breaks the hosts were talking about a lefty show that had an episode on voter suppression (meaning republicans are trying to prevent folks from voting democratic). They bantered back and forth to the effect of “We know there was lots of voter suppression in the 2004 election and it’s still going on, you know….” My politics being more or less the same as theirs, my main reaction was a simple “yup” between spoonfuls of cereal. The next thing they said was that there would be a local show about the presidential debate next week. Both sort of tripped over words trying to express something like “because we’re different [from the national crowd] here in the (San Francisco) Bay Area.”

First, I’m sure that if I played with my radio dial or sat down at my computer I could really fast find a right wing radio show that was all up in arms about “voter fraud” (meaning some people who shouldn’t be allowed to vote voted democratic). So what? Seems so symptomatic of the state of our public discourse : preaching to the choir on both sides; demonization and fear mongering. “Our” side is probably right, but I just found myself wondering what we hope to accomplish with this kind of “journalism.” Does it fan the flames of my indignation? Burn in more deeply my conviction? Or does it just make it less and less likely that we’ll ever manage to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with us and less likely that either will budge if we did?

For the second thing, back to the radio hosts’ comment about the Bay Area being different. Again, I suspect there are lots of radio hosts around the country saying more or less the same thing this morning. And each of them is comparing local sensibilities to an idealized version of some “outsider” them. We Texans are a might bit different from those New Yorkers! We Floridians are not like the rest of the south. We south Floridians are not like the rest of Florida. And on and on. If we (whoever we are) really want to win this election, you’d think one of the most important things would be to listen to people who are not like us, listen good, and learn how to talk with them too.

It is interesting that we could live in an “information age” and yet maybe have lost the ability to talk.

Perhaps of Interest

Diana C. Mutz Hearing the Other Side. Cambridge University Press

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

2 thoughts on “Talking to Ourselves”

  1. There’s a recent article by Michael Alvarez showing a huge difference between blacks and whites on whether they are confident that their vote in the 2004 election was counted. As for tribalism, it seems to be a strong element in presidential politics. Each side is trying to convince voters that the other guy is not like you and is not like what you want to be. (Wouldn’t you rather be a war hero tough enough to withstand torture than a Harvard Law grad community organizer?) But I thought Obama’s was a 50-state strategy and that he was trying to talk to voters in Texas and Idaho, not just his base and the swing states.

  2. That sounds right on Obama strategy. I was thinking more about how the conversations go after the candidate leaves — although I’m guessing that even if you visit every state, it’s really really heavy lifting to get people who don’t already support a candidate to come out and listen to him or her at a rally or speech.

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