Politics: My Small “Maturity Box”

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We all have what I call maturity boxes. They are fictional boxes that are categorized based on our interests and things we find educational, insightful, inspirational, or just worth keeping. The bigger the box, the more knowledgeable and objective our opinions become. The smaller the box, the more narrow and naïve we appear to be.

My two biggest boxes would have to be labeled food and design. I “fill” those up daily with recipes/cookbooks I love to read and with endless logo sketches and lists of articles of which I feel every graphic designer should know.

I also have smaller-sized interest boxes. One of those itty bitty ones is politics. My interest in politics is for the most part very low. Once in a while, I’ll feel more inclined to “fill” that box with insight from an online article or a friend’s comment, but for the most part, I don’t visit that box often. Part of the reason is because much of the political stories or discussions I hear tend to be very much on the surface and often have bitter undertones. They also exhibit homophily, or the tendency to connect with like-minded individuals. This often results in homogenous and one-sided judgments that I don’t feel are worth keeping in my box.  I also tend to think that people with such stories probably have small politics boxes as well and should take a closer look at their speaking:listening ratio. However, last week Bob Weeks and Jason Dilts shared some interesting thoughts/tips on politics as it relates to social media. I threw a few of these into my social media (and somewhat politics) boxes.

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Bob Weeks is a prominent conservative blogger in Wichita. What most amazed me about Bob Weeks’ use of social media is how interconnected he has made his platforms (his newsletter, Twitter and Facebook) with the goal of expanding the reach of his blog Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Knowing that each platform attracts a slightly different group of people, he makes sure to give presence to his blog through these different platforms. While he was at first unsure about Twitter, realizing he could use it as a tool to get more people in made Weeks quickly adapt to it, effectively giving his blog more hits. Now he includes a list of recent tweets on his blog, as well as offers a way to sign up for his newsletter, get email updates, find him on Facebook, view his documents on Scribd and add his blog to your Google Homepage or your Google Reader. A true example of someone who knows how to spin his media web. Whether or not you agree with Weeks’ political point of view, his social media techniques are a sure way to increase traffic to his blog and at least give him a chance to be heard.

Jason Dilts also uses social media in a political context. While Weeks’ goal is to increase traffic and create reactions and responses from his audience, Dilts’ aims are more time-sensitive. As a Wichita City Council candidate, Dilts is using social media as part of his political agenda to increase awareness of his campaign. What most intrigued me about Dilts’ discussion is his realization of how social media in large part contributes to the concretization of his campaign. He explains that many of his supporters and contributors were people he met through Tweet-Ups or through relationships that first started digitally through Facebook and then manifested themselves physically. As a result, most of the money raised for his campaign was raised through social media outlets. He met former KSN news anchor Anita Cochran through a Tweet-Up, through which they developed a great professional relationship that resulted in Cochran being Dilts’ treasurer for the campaign. An aspect of Wichita’s social networking that I hadn’t given much thought to is that much of social media’s success in Wichita arises from the fact that we are not a connected city, in terms of public transportation. Dilts explains that as a result, Wichitans feel isolated but social media has helped bridge that divide. Although I hadn’t considered this assessment, it makes perfect sense. I’d be interested in doing a research paper on the correlation between a city’s use of public transportation and their use of social media.

Dilts also raises many interesting questions on the kind of consequences that our actions on Facebook will have 20 years from now. For Dilts, the kind of messages he used to post on Facebook have changed now that he has gained over 2,000 friends through his campaign, many of whom he has never met or heard of. Dilts has realized that his Facebook page is no longer his, but a part of his professional campaign and an avenue to get his message out. If he were to post a fun picture of last night’s party with his friends, all 2000+ Facebook ‘friends’ would then have access to them, some of which might not be relevant to his campaign and of which could be misinterpreted or misused. Social media presents us in an entirely different light. In The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick mentions how President Barack Obama openly stated having used cocaine and “almost nobody cared.” Such a confession wouldn’t have gone as unnoticed via Facebook or Twitter.

As I’ve followed a small group of political figures of my own on Twitter, I noticed a couple of things. First, I gained a better understanding of why I don’t follow politics in the first place. At least on Twitter, the Tweets weren’t even considered for my politics box. Second, I noticed most of Tweets, including some by SpeakerPelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s Twitter name and ColinCurtisKS, a young student and activist, seemed to be just plain pandering. I didn’t find them effective or interesting. It seems like a game of ‘who can criticize the most naively.’ For SpeakerPelosi, people will notice and judge on a more national scale whereas ColinCurtisKS is more locally relevant. Not all of their Tweets fell into this category, but even so, I think Tweets should be a little more on the useful side. Others, like RepToddTiahrt, took a more positive approach. Many of tese individuals’ Tweets were not about nasty political bickering, but about interesting snippets of their personal interests and announcements of local events. The issue then centers on the honesty of their Tweets, or if they’re more for personal branding. All in all, I’ll keep an eye out on this recently added group. Perhaps once in a while I’ll have a few Tweets I could consider for my politics box. Little by little, I’m sure I’ll make it bigger.

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