The debate has been raging for more than a year now, but until Sunday night when the Senate’s health care bill finally passed, the discourse had largely been the domain of political junkies, Fox News Tea Partiers, and otherwise outspoken partisans. The rest of us were minding our own business, unsure exactly what was in the legislation and certainly ill-suited to comment on the whole enterprise in any sort of intelligent way.
But not anymore! The minute–literally, the minute–the House of Representatives passed the bill–which will cost an estimated $940 billion over 10 years and expand health care to 32 million more Americans–people who had been largely silent on the matter began to get very loud about it on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other social media (Google Buzz?) they might have had at their disposal.
Everyone all of a sudden became alarmingly, proudly partisan. Liberals rushed to tweet things about this being a “historic moment” and how “now we are more like Canada.” Conservatives swiftly updated their Facebook statuses with emotional outbursts about things like “baby killers” and “socialist utopias” and “the constitution being shredded by Democrats.”
Within a few hours after the bill had passed, it seemed that if you weren’t publicly announcing your allegiance in this hotly contested battle (however ill-informed you were on the details), you were missing out.
Welcome to the age of instant, public, recreational prognosticating. We are all talking heads. We all have something to say. And nothing but our cell phones and a “send” command is keeping our “expert” thoughts from reaching the masses.
But do we really want to be so public about our politics? Think about all the people you are friends with on Facebook—employers, friends, family, coworkers, potential collaborators… all with a diversity of political opinions and varying degrees of patience with people who disagree with them. Is it really crucial that they all know where you fall on the issue of health care?
Of course, this raises a larger question for our culture today: Why are we so obsessed with expressing our opinions to a vast and unseen digital audience via social media “status updates”? Is anyone that eager to know that “I’m glad we have health care reform” or “I think Obamacare will ruin everything”?
I’m not sure anyone is.
But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the reason people rant and rave so publicly these days is not because they care if anyone is listening; maybe they just want to be part of the conversation. Tweeting about breaking news allows us to feel part of the drama. Chiming in about the health care controversy keeps us from becoming obsolete in the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps it helps us, in some small way, become more invested in matters of national policy.
But I’m guessing it mostly helps us become more invested in hearing ourselves speak and seeing our opinions proliferated. And I’m not sure the world needs any more of that.