I have an essay on Donald Trump’s Twitter habit, and what it says about the times, in the new issue of Politico Magazine.
Here’s a bit:
In the early 1950s, the Canadian political economist Harold Innis suggested that every informational medium has a bias. By encouraging certain forms of speech and discouraging others, a popular medium not only influences how people converse; it also shapes a society’s institutions and values. Early types of media — tablets, scrolls, theaters — were “time-biased,” Innis wrote. Durable and largely stationary, they encouraged the long view and tended to underpin communities that were stable, hierarchical, and often deeply religious.
As communication technology advanced, new “space-biased” media came to the fore. Communication networks extended across great distances and reached mass audiences, and the messages the networks carried took on a more transactional and transitory character. Modern media, from post offices to telegraph lines to TV stations, encouraged the development of more dynamic societies built not on eternal verities but on commerce and trade.
By altering prevailing forms of communication, Innis argued, every new medium tends to upset the status quo. The recent arrival of social media fits this pattern. Thanks to the rise of networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, the way we express ourselves, as individuals and as citizens, is in a state of upheaval. Radically biased toward space and against time, social media is inherently destabilizing. What it teaches us, through its whirlwind of fleeting messages, is that nothing lasts. Everything is disposable. Novelty rules. The disorienting sway that Trump’s tweets hold over us, the way they’ve blurred the personal and the public, the vital and the trivial, the true and the false, testifies to the power of the change, and the uncertainty of its consequences.