In Part 1, I talked about forms of digital activism, like Twitter, using the “like” feature on Facebook and writing blogs that really are limited to the more Internet savvy segments of the American population. The practice that originally prompted me to write these posts is much more widespread – the forwarded email. I’ll limit myself to discussing the political and social commentary emails; though I’m sure most of us could come up with a good rant about the numerous varieties that clog our inboxes.
I was first prompted to consider writing on this topic after receiving yet another opinionated email that ended by urging me to forward it to 10 more people so that soon it would reach nearly everyone in the U.S. I was struck by how many of these messages imply that by simply clicking on the forward button you will have done a great service to our country by spreading this information. If you forward the so-called facts about the movement of manufacturing overseas, you’ve done your part to make things better. There’s rarely a call for you to actually do anything. Or if there is, it tends to be something completely unrealistic – everyone should buy gas that’s refined from U.S. oil so we’re not dependent on foreign oil. OK, that sounds like a good idea except that there isn’t enough supply to meet the demand. That would be why we import oil in the first place. Of course, there’s no need to switch from a gas guzzler to a more fuel-efficient car. Forward the email instead.
Aside from the complacency encouraged by this idea that you can make a real difference just by forwarding the message, these types of political messages are generally one-sided and filled with misinformation or distortions. Rather than encouraging the open discussion necessary for democracy to truly flourish, they imply that any other opinion is inconceivable or stupid. The authors of these emails are catering to what people want to hear, not challenging them to think beyond their preconceived ideas. Who wouldn’t want to believe that by simply boycotting certain gas stations we could drastically reduce the price of gas? Forward the message and you’ll help change the world. When it doesn’t work, don’t question the original premise; it must be the fault of those people who didn’t forward the message.
In this age of instant information, it has become increasingly important that we learn to evaluate the information that bombards us constantly. We have to educate ourselves and question our own assumptions. Our society is not going to be improved by unthinking acceptance of ideas that simply feed our existing opinions or wishes. But it’s much easier to nod knowingly. And point and click.
Just do us both a favor. Don’t bother forwarding that message to me because I won’t send it any further.