State of the Social Union

White House
White House (Photo credit: Tom Lohdan)

By the time I finish writing this post, Barack Obama will be delivering his fourth State of the Union address. This is nothing new; neither is the pessimistic feeling that seems to have befallen the American people. (Just a few hours ago, USA Today asked its twitter followers to give one word to describe how they felt about the nation; “screwed,” “pathetic” and “joke” were common terms.)

However, something new is being included in today’s SOTU that will last much longer than any congressman or woman’s career— instant social media feedback.

The White House is adding numerous interactive features to this address, including live chats with officials about issues highlighted in the president’s speech.  A YouTube video explains all of the brand-new ways the White House is attempting to engage the public. They are connecting via Google+, Facebook, Twitter and mobile apps. Right now, they are streaming a special annotated version of the address live here. This version includes pictures, quotes, and facts that have been perfectly timed to match Obama’s words.

A screenshot I took on 2-12-13 of the president's SOTU address being streamed on YouTube. Note the instant addition of a graph to illustrate one of his points.
A screenshot I took on 2-12-13 of the president’s SOTU address being streamed on YouTube. Note the instant addition of a graph to illustrate one of his points.

If you aren’t an Obama fan, do not fear! You, too, can get instant social media commentary courtesy of the GOP. The Republicans are providing instant fact-checking and responses to the SOTU here.

I haven’t even began to mention the scores of politicians from both sides of the spectrum who have vowed to live-tweet their feelings during the speech.

With all of this commenting going on, it begs the question: Will we ever be able to turn the “comment box” of life off? Will society ever be able to simply sit back and listen to something before responding to it? Or will we get commentary from Joe Republican or Susie Democrat or Independent Pat before the words even are out of the speaker’s mouth? Are we too dependent on social media that we can’t function without constant interaction?

The incessant focus, especially in politics, of quickly responding and fact checking and finger-pointing, puts us at what I believe is a gross disadvantage. It doesn’t allow anybody to think. It takes time to digest what we hear. We need to think about the words, their connotations and how they fit together to make meanings and points before we can truly form an opinion.

That being said, I am guilty of the exact same thing I am accusing our lawmakers and politicians of doing. I will live-tweet the Academy Awards for the second time this year. I will judge and comment on dresses and speeches within seconds of my neurons firing. My one consolation, however, is knowing that what Brangelina wore to the Oscars is less important to the USA than the SOTU.

What do you think? Do you like the new features? I must admit they are pretty cool, but must be taken with a grain of salt. Can you turn off the “comment box” on your life?

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One thought on “State of the Social Union

  1. aarongenest February 14, 2013 / 3:47 PM

    Thanks for this. I think that you’re missing the point somewhat by bemoaning the knee-jerk reactions to such events. We have long had these reactions (supported by numerous first-impression research papers including this very interesting one: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/conferences/ace-netc/lindgaard.pdf). What’s different is that we’re now able to express these reactions in a wider forum, instead of simply groaning or high fiving with our family and friends around the TV.

    Prior to the advent of mass media, special events were evaluated on the basis of crowd support: thus the shill or paid heckler, a precursor of the partisan pundit. There is nothing more immediate than that kind of reaction. Post-event analysis, often in the form of broadsheets, soapbox punditry, or newspapers was the ‘thoughtful analysis’ offered in that age. There is little difference between that and the host of blog posts (reputable and otherwise) that emerge within hours of our vastly more public events.

    If anything, the mass of first-impression reactions available through social media makes the process of generating thoughtful punditry more interesting, more important, and more exacting. We now have more data about how people feel while watching these events.

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