Old Fogeyism Isn't That Surprising

from the kids-these-days dept

Last week Thomas Friedman penned a silly column claiming that Internet-based activism doesn't "count" as real political engagement. "Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual," he says. As various people have pointed out, this is complete nonsense. I engaged in some campus activism in college in the late 1990s, and I have trouble even imagining how students coordinated their activities in the pre-email days. Blogs have proven an incredibly potent force for rooting out and publicizing injustice. And I'm sure the technologies that have evolved since I graduated are just as valuable to campus activists. Obviously, online activism by itself doesn't accomplish anything, but by the same token neither do telephone calls or newspaper columns. Rather, these are all tools that activists can use to coordinate their activities more efficiently. Many of the people who sign up for candidates' Facebook groups do go to the candidates' rallies or volunteer for their campaigns.

However, I think we shouldn't be too hard on Friedman. After all, it's pretty common for older people to complain about young people and their new-fangled ways of doing things. There are journalism professors who believe that you have to publish on paper to "count" as a serious journalist. There were lots of people who looked down their noses at Internet dating when it began, and some people still sneer at efforts to improve the online matchmaking process. And of course, there are books arguing that volunteer-driven content like Wikipedia is destroying our culture by undermining traditional ways of organizing information. Most of these arguments are silly, obviously, but it's not that hard to understand where they're coming from. If you've spent decades thinking about an activity in a particular way (if, say, you've been a print journalist for 30 years) you're going to have deeply-ingrained assumptions about how that activity is supposed to be done. And so when people start doing it a different way, it's inevitably going to seem incomprehensible and weird. So while I think Friedman's wrong, I don't think Friedman's being particularly obtuse. He's just fallen prey to garden-variety old fogeyism.

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Comments on “Old Fogeyism Isn't That Surprising”

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nedu says:

Communications revolution

Old-time storybook fable—

Disaffected university students seize radio and televisions stations…Declare proletarian uprising….Workers and peasants toss out old corrupt pigs….New government makes gesture of national gratitude—Brilliant leadership and forceful initiative of students—Students seized all communications—Revolution all thanks to students….Big party…Lots of vodka…Flowers…

Worker’s and Peasant’s Government closes university….Throws students in gulag.

Just old tale.

Made into Hollywood movie.

Grossed $x million dollars at box office.

Petréa Mitchell says:

Organizing in the bad old days

“I engaged in some campus activism in college in the late 1990s, and I have trouble even imagining how students coordinated their activities in the pre-email days.”

Please tell me you’re kidding.

I go onto a college campus about once a week during the school year, and as far as I can see, the student groups still know how to set up regular meetings at a reliable place and time.

Petréa Mitchell says:

Re: Re: Organizing in the bad old days

“I think the point was, how did they inform eveybody about the meeting prior to email.”

Okay: bulletin boards. No, I mean those things that go on walls.

I’m still hoping Mr. Lee is kidding. I was in college in the late 1990s too, and I didn’t encounter any student organizations that used e-mail for serious purposes.

Respectfully disagree says:

Thomas Friedman could kick Tim Lee's intellectual

If Tim Lee had bothered to really read Friedman’s article, he would have noticed that Friedman said nothing about modern life vs. (say) the 60s in terms of getting people together on an issue. I believe Friedman acknowledges that the internet and all that it has spawned have done wonderful things for communication. No one doubts that young people are interested in political candidates, environmental issues, DMCA, etc. Our interest in all these things and more is perfectly evident by the sheer numbers of blogs, online groups, websites, etc. devoted to all these things.

What Friedman is saying (which is perfectly clear if you pay attention to traditional media and your community and government leaders) is that all the online noise doesn’t impact the issues in any meaningful way. Sure, a tech company like apple can hear the complaints online when they drop the price on the iPhone and then offer a $100 coupon. But politicians in your city counsel, state house, or in Congress just aren’t getting the memo. Yes, they all have interns, runners, pages, etc who are “in the know” and see what is going on online. Unfortunately, however, until the discontent of (what should be) the all powerful 18-35 demographic really gets in the faces of these people (the ones that truly hold the power) there won’t be any substantive changes made.

I can go on and on with examples, but I don’t need to. Why do you think no one cared about global warming until Al Gore starred in a MOVIE?

Max Powers at http://ConsumerFight.com (user link) says:

As I grow older, I understand better

Every time I see Andy Rooney on 60 minutes it reminds me of people like Thomas Friedman. Some older people will never fully understand the technology available today and how it can be used to improve methods of the past.

His “activism days” are at times much different than those of today. He believes what he believes and that’s fine with me. Just think how boring this world would be if we all thought the same.

I have problems with youngsters who listen to iPods in public 24/7 without ever communicating with a human. How does that classify me?

Anon2 says:

One thing is abundantly clear, and completely recognized by virtually all activist organizations: online petitions and email campaigns are not nearly as effective as telephone calls or old fashioned letters. Perhaps some day that will be different, but we’ve had email for a long time and still it does not come close to the impact of phone calls or letters. So on that score, Friedman is completely correct.

Greybeard says:

I’m over 62. I guess I’m age qualified to be a fogey. Maybe I should stop reading blogs and just retire to my rocker and speak of the good old daze of the 60’s when men were real men, women were real women and revolution was real revolution announced as God intended it to be – on a mimeograph.

Or instead, maybe I’ll say “Far out. I can dig it. It’s so groovy to have new ways of expressing power to the people. Right on”

I actually agree with Anon2’s (#12) comment.

sam says:

to the posters who think that friedman doesn’t get it…

read a few of his books/columns.. he gets it.. he probably gets what’s happening in the world as a result of technology, and it’s myriad implications quite a bit more than most..

the ageism that i detect from some posters is funny as hell, if it weren’t so blatant. but that’s why a good number of the “yougner” people that i’ve interviewed have this view that they are deserved/owed something, as opposed to really rolling putting in the work.

let’s face it.. facebook/social networks/web2.0 isn’t the end of tech! in fact, a good number of seriously low level innovations in key tech areas like semi-conductor physics is still coming from nicely aged researchers…

it’s also this ageism that is behind the lack of investments in tech businesses by older founders..


Tim Lee (user link) says:

#1 and #14: old-fogeyism is a state of mind as much as a chronological age.

#4: my point is that organizing the tabling and protests and whatnot is much, much easier with email. Yes, I’m sure you can do the same things with bulletin boards, phone calls, etc. But it’s a lot more work and takes longer.

#10: the Internet provided Howard Dean with visibility and fundraising prowess he never would have had in the pre-Internet days. The fact that his campaign didn’t have any clue how to convert all that money and enthusiasm into election victories isn’t the Internet’s fault.

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