This article is part of a series of thinking examining modern media and our civic life including my new book For ALL the People coming Feb 23, 2021.
In this post-election, year-end period of reflection, we are seeing dozens of jeremiads and manifestos rising from all corners and comers. What does this election mean? What will a Biden Administration make possible? Is Trumpism dead? Can society survive mis/disinformation? We’re wrestling with big, fundamental questions about the nature of human society, our social contract, the future of capitalism (and even whether our understanding of its history is accurate), the efficacy of small “d” democratic civic life in the face of modern media seemingly designed to undermine it.
So much of the diagnosis of what has made our politics feel mean and our civic life border on pointless are rightly rooted in the stories we tell and the media systems we leverage to build community in the twenty-first century. I have been wrestling with similar questions since the initial collision of America presidential politics and modern media during the 2008 Obama for America campaign. As one of the products of the last decade of my work, I have written a book in an attempt to explore why we are where we are, how we got here, and if we want a civic life that feeds our best instincts and makes community vibrant and possible, where we go from here.
In hopes of adding something to the debate about American democracy in the information age — through the lens of how we tell stories and the media systems rely on as our public sphere, I’m publishing my first book For ALL the People February 23, 2021 — preorder here.
In For ALL the People, I make the case that the great promises of early days of the internet — the heady cyberutopian hopes of greater connectivity leading to vibrant discourse and expanding perspectives are still possible if we are willing to confront the tyranny of outrage that has been produced by the commercial engines that have made new platforms ubiquitous. Our platforms need redesign, our voices need to be reclaimed, our institutions need to be restored, and we need redemption. There is work to do, but it is there for us. We relied on these promises being inevitable and allowed our public needs to remain implicit assumptions in the development of modern media. If we can summon the moral leadership to articulate these needs with clarity and conviction, to make our public needs explicit requirements of the next era of media innovation, we can start moving in the direction of community that feeds us, supports us, enables a future we want for ourselves and our democracy.