Friday, September 28, 2018

Adjusting to Technology

Stop worrying about presidential tweeting triggering a global nuclear war. This is a bit out of my blogging lane but as a history issue it is fascinating to me.

Let me start with some things that triggered this post. One, I once read a fascinating news article written during the Crimean War that complained that the speed and immediacy of telegraph-based reporting from the war was ruining the ability of the British people to digest news and think about it.

Two, I recall reading that FDR's radio "fireside" chats were very immediate and personal to people who weren't used to a president communicating that way.

Three, television changed campaigns by hurting Nixon against JFK in a debate, with radio listeners thinking Nixon won and TV viewers thinking JFK won.

And four, Obama in his 2012 campaign avoided traditional hard news programs for softer hosts, including YouTube stars.

I imagine the telegraph, use of radio, television, and YouTube frightened and/or horrified a lot of people used to the old ways. I know I was somewhat contemptuous of the YouTube thing, given the whole cheerio bath aspect. Perhaps direct mail appeals or phone call messages had similar reactions.

But I was wrong to be so dismissive of Obama's adaptation. As communications means change, politicians who need votes must follow the audience. Past leaps were accomplished and we adjusted to the new normal.

Now Trump embraces Tweets. And some think it undignified. I certainly do. But my view of dignified television interviews was probably once viewed as kind of grubby and beneath a president for those older than me.

And I don't worry that a presidential tweet will start a war any more than I believe a telegram, radio, television, or YouTube statement could have done that.

With commercial advertising moving to video games, how long will it be before presidential candidates and presidents put their messages into games and virtual reality? Given the changes in reaching audiences, I'm sure that will happen.

It would be fascinating to see a real study of how presidential communications means in office and in campaigning--and popular and elite reaction to new means--has evolved since the beginning of our country.

Perhaps it would provide a little needed perspective.