Two of last week’s political sideshows have got me thinking about politics, promiscuity, and technology. First, Senator John Ensign admitted to having an affair after having, allegedly, been blackmailed. Around the same time, as young Iranians leveraged Twitter as a platform for their ongoing Revolution, GOP Rep Hoekstra was, deservedly, criticized for trying to draw a correlation between their efforts and the GOP’s use of Twitter in the House.
While both of these stories aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) newsworthy on their own, they do address one of the challenges facing an emerging generation of leaders. As Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter serve as digital diaries broadcast to the world, we might want to stop and reflect on what an atmosphere of instant access means to those who might one day occupy public positions. As it stands, social networking enables everyone to broadcast inside jokes, silly pictures, even indiscretions, in a forum that can be accessed by individuals from all over the world. Without context, these images and sound bites could prove damaging for those who decide to take the path of public service. Similarly, the days of blackmail are threatened by instant access. The time between action and confession is shortened by the tendency, and ability, to confess while in the act.
Many of today’s leaders were young in the 1960s; a decade where young people vocally opposed the war in Vietnam, and many others grew up in the 70s and 80s proudly identifying with the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” mentality of the era. A majority of them have looked back fondly on their youth and admitted to “being young and stupid” but none of them have had to confront easily accessible youtube videos or photographs documenting that stupidity. As a result of online social platforms, that will no longer be the case.
Begging the question: is social networking creating an atmosphere where we become desensitized, or, more honest?
Politics has always operated in the shadow of promiscuity. The “Tell All” book has become an infamous way of revisiting history with the intention of confronting the perception of what happened, with the reality as it occurred behind closed doors. Politicians have been stigmatized as “corrupt” and “dishonest” in part because these stories emerge and contradict their public perceptions. Similarly, with speechwriters and consultants weighing in on each word uttered publicly, twitter is showing us our leaders when they’re most vulnerable, frankly, when they’re unedited. Rep Hoekstra’s comments in a crowded room would have probably caused a few people to cringe. Yet through Twitter, users from all over the world were able to retaliate within seconds.
We can only speculate as to what this will mean. Still, I have no doubt that we’re entering uncharted territory, and in many cases, our generation will largely determine how politics, promiscuity, and technology relate moving forward.