Why we don’t need Meerkat in 2016
No one will question Dan Pfeiffer’s understanding of American politics. But in his recent piece (“How Meerkat is Going to Change the 2016 Election for Every Campaign, Reporter and Voter”), I believe Mr. Pfeiffer misses the larger question: Is the constant access of our aspiring political leaders good for the electorate? In other words, are the American people better served, are we better voters, will the nearly endless supply of information and video flooding our brains?
I am no Luddite nor do pine for the days when politicians were able to hide their dealings from the public. I applaud the work of journalists like Glenn Greenwald and share their advocacy for the greater transparency of our government. But there is a stark difference between transparency and the transformation of our political process into a reality television show. Meerkat continues the trend of the latter while only paying lip-service to the former.
Mr. Pfeiffer describes watching a recent Jeb Bush event “while waiting in line at the grocery store.” Aside from the novelty of the app and the opportunity it allows, what is the point? Do we truly need this? Doesn’t the endless viewing and constant need for access prohibit our ability to process and actually think about the issues at hand? If the 2016 campaign, as Mr. Pfeiffer suggests, evolves into a wonkier version of The Truman Show, how does that advance our political discourse?
Apps like Meerkat, Periscope and the rest, in an attempt to break down barriers and democratize the world, inflict unforeseen consequences upon our culture. Our attempts to flatten the informational landscape leave us with a barren and featureless topography. As a result, our political world lacks depth and contours and we lose our ability to appreciate the nuances imperative to govern effectively.
The important difference between Meerkat and the earlier technological innovations cited by Mr. Pfeiffer (notable Meetup andFacebook) is Meerkat’s inability to bring people together. Meetup and Facebook, whatever else they be, allow individuals to organize and unite a wide range of people with a common cause. At their best, they amplify a voice and provide a free platform to put words into action. Meerkat is the Kardashianization of American politics.
When we as a people bemoan the polarization of our politicians and long for someone to move beyond the soundbite, we should remember that this is a natural byproduct of our insatiable appetite for content and a worrying inability to be alone with our thoughts. Like watching NASCAR for the crashes, most of our political attention is spent watching like-minded pundits review the day’s missteps and gaffes rather than spending any serious time devoted to considering the specific ideas of any one candidate.
“Give a man a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” — Oscar Wilde
As ever, it seems our comedians, our jesters are the ones to bring us the truth. During a recent interview with Conan O’Brien, Louis C.K. reminded us of the importance of being alone:
You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there.
We don’t need Meerkat to help us decide our next president. Do you want to know what Governor Bush said in New Hampshire? Read the transcript. Read it carefully and deliberately. No one needs a twenty-four hour live feed of any other human being, not even one aiming for the Oval Office.
We don’t need Meerkat. We need a willingness to simply stand in a line and be alone.