In my opinion, American exceptionalism is grounded in a belief that we are a nation of ideas, and for over 240 years we’ve nurtured political, educational and economic institutions to promote their free exchange. We live in a knowledge age where technology provides unprecedented access to information and endless avenues for expressing ideas. Yet, we are a people increasingly devoid of meaningful, intelligent debate around ideas. How can this be?
It’s easy to blame the media. Sensationalist headlines dominate Internet newsfeeds, tempting us to click so we can be spoon-fed advertisements. Meanwhile, populist elements on the left and right are engaged in a battle of words and “aha-gotcha-now-I’m-better-than-you” gamesmanship. Anyone suggesting compromise is considered weak, or a sellout. All this shouting seems childish, cheap and vulgar. But is it to blame for a lack of intelligent discussion?
Perhaps in part, but the ultimate blame lies with we the people. Despite the prevalence of enabling technology, few use it to acquire knowledge or open their mind to another’s viewpoint. Instead, we use it for entertainment. We use it to stream hour after hour on Hulu and Netflix, or watch “brides gone wild” and silly pet trick videos. We use it share drivel about our day, play games, or anonymously cut down those we disagree with in 140 characters or less. This is sad. If America is to remain exceptional, we must find ways to use technology to encourage meaningful, intelligent conversation around ideas.
Paul Nowak, Racine