It's been about half a century since Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media and a lot has changed since then. The need to understand media, and especially social media, has grown considerably since then.
As the Social Media Manager for a non-profit health care organization, I often speak at conferences about social media. Besides my role in non-profits, I also talk about social media from the perspective of a politician and a citizen journalist.
Recently, I spoke about how I like to use social media when I'm at conferences. Typically, I try to take notes at the conference using Twitter. I need to refine the thought down to less than 140 characters. Sometimes, this can be a challenge. Sometimes, people might not get what I'm tweeting, without the context of the surrounding tweets. People need to learn more about context, especially for tweets, where additional context can often be found in the hashtags used in the tweets.
When I mentioned this at one event I was at, people said they felt uncomfortable doing that because others might think they were busy doing things online and not paying attention. As a social media manager, I don't often run into that problem, but it is a common misconception.
Just because a person is writing something on their computer, perhaps via Facebook or Twitter, doesn't mean they aren't paying attention. If they are using social media as a means of taking and sharing notes, they may be paying much more attention than others who are just sitting casually at the meeting.
Another aspect of social media note taking is that it is conversational. It is like being able to take notes and see other people's notes at the same time. It can produce brief interchanges that further enhance the understanding of the topic being discussed. I recently ran into this as I was taking notes via social media of the hearings in Hartford about Newtown.
State Senator Beth Bye posted about a nuanced statement from DMHAS Commissioner Patricia Rehmer about outpatient commitment and forced medication. A few different people commented on different aspects of this and I believe everyone came out better informed as a result.
Yet this style of note taking and communications may be unfamiliar to some. Some people may have a mistaken impression that Facebook is just for games or talking about parties. What is worse, some people may try to capitalize on this misimpression to cast aspersions on others. This is perhaps most likely by those who do not want a serious discussion about the issues our country faces and simply want to force their opinions on others.
Such people may, in fact, use social media to distort, and to try to get traditional media sources to spread the distortion.
This appears to be the case of opponents of gun control legislation that Sen. Bye has introduced. Perhaps it backfired on them because the broadcast that NBC had showed a gun control opponent who was not at the hearing criticizing Sen. Bye for being at the hearing and using Facebook to communicate with constituents about the hearing. It helped paint the gun control opponents as uninformed. Fortunately for those opposing gun control, NBC ended their segment with a gun control opponent who was at the hearing and who lauded Sen. Bye for her efforts to keep people informed.
Over the coming years, I expect to see more and more legislators using social media to communicate with the constituents, especially during hearings. Sen. Bye and several other Connecticut legislators provide a good example of how this can be done to improve civil discourse. Of course, during this time, there are bound to be more issues like this one and we all need to spend more time understanding social media.
Today, I watched parts of the "Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Public Hearing at the Legislative Office Building about Gun Control".
While I haven't seen any talking points sent out by people supporting or opposing gun control, but it sure sounded like a lot people were reading off of one script or another.
Guns don't kill people, people kill people. The only thing that stops a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun. Cars, alcohol, airplanes, etc., kill people, why don't we ban them? We need our guns to protect us from tyrants, terrorists, and home invasions.
However, a lot of what people say is contradictory, just plain false, or even nuts.
For example, people say that limiting high capacity magazines wouldn't have slowed down the shooter. However, banning high capacity magazines would make it difficult for law abiding citizens to defend their homes.
People opposed to gun control talk about 9/11 and how that didn't cause any new legislation to be quickly passed. However, the Patriot Act was passed 45 days after 9/11. Anyone who thinks that 9/11 didn't change things, hasn't flown in an airplane over the past decade. It is notable that other people opposed to gun control cite the Patriot Act as a reason they need to keep their guns.
Those who talk about cars, alcohol and airplanes would most likely be abhorred if guns were as regulated as cars, alcohol and airplanes, and we do require car owners to have insurance.
One of the great talking points is the issue of mental health, and I think that is an important point. When I listen to people saying things like "We're already close to civil war because of a certain man in the White House" and "I call about all gun owners to nullify any law" which limits gun ownership, "I don't trust the government anymore", and "the AMA has drugged our youth", I think mental health is a big issue, and I do hope that Secret Service is paying attention to some of the testimony.
I also have to wonder how many of the people who are calling for more spending on mental health are some of the same people who are calling for lower taxes and less government spending.
Then, there is the argument that no law will prevent criminals from getting guns. No law prevents criminals from doing many different things, but that doesn't mean we should have no laws. However, it seems like the common thread is that we should be making it more difficult for people who should not have guns to get guns.
This is not to say that the hearings have been without content. A spokesperson for the Police Chiefs' Association had what sounded like well thought out suggestions on how to combat gun violence. Likewise, the spokespeople for the Connecticut Council of Municipalities talked about about what efforts were most likely to have a real effect on gun violence in our state.
Perhaps the most interesting was the spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation who exercised some sophistry to try and dance around comments from Sen. Williams. Sen. Williams called him out on it, but it struck me as if the NSSF has about as little credibility the NRA. On the other hand, the spokesperson for Sturm and Ruger actually spoke persuasively about trying to improve gun safety and wanting to work with the legislature.
I wish more people would speak like the Police Chiefs, the Connecticut Council of Municipalities and work together to find ways to make our country truly safer.
And so, it begins a new, the annual town budget process. Each year budgets are proposed and presented to joint meetings of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance. Each year, the Government Access Television channel covers these presentations, live and with rebroadcasts.
I attended the meeting this evening because I am on the Government Access Television commission and our proposed budget was being presented. As is typically the case, the GAT presentation went quickly with lots of congenial remarks. I stuck around for discussions about the Fire Department budget and various other budgets. There were discussions about the need for an updated Town Plan of Conversation and Development, of changes to the Grand List and the re-evaluation that will come in 2014. There was talk of building permits and new generators being installed in town. It all seemed very routine, almost like a New England version of Mayberry RFD.
Members of other commissions came and went as their budgets were presented. Perhaps many of the townsfolk were watching on TV, but no showed up at town hall if they weren't somehow involved with a department presenting.
Some people are pleased with this. To them, it means that the people of Woodbridge are satisfied with the way the town is being run, happy to leave the decisions in the hands of those that they've elected. Yet the municipal elections have small turnouts. Personally, I'd much rather see many more people showing up at these budget presentations and talking afterwards. I'd much rather see a great turnout in the municipal elections.
In the spring, the budget will be presented to the town as a whole. We will gather in the gym at the old Center School. GAT will again record and broadcast it. Towns people will get up and complain about how the budget "seemed to have been negotiated in secret". They will call for greater "Integrity, Transparency, Accountability", in spite of having not shown up at previous public meetings or spoken up in the past. They will speak about how the "sense of everyone working together for the best interest of the town as a whole, [has] began to evaporate."
Inevitably, someone will stand up and this meeting and talk about how the members of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance have put in long hours at public meetings, speaking congenially, trying to come up with the best budget for the town, and the real problem is that those who complain the loudest are the ones that don't come to the public meetings.
Then, the budget gets passed, the municipal elections are held, and we move into the slower summer months.
I grew up in a small town and watched these yearly cycles, as regular as the seasons. After college, I wanted more excitement and moved to the big city. Now, as I get older, I have returned to a small town similar to the one I grew up in, with the same frustrating, and somehow comforting, patterns of life.
Yesterday, I wrote about various town halls that are happening around the State of Connecticut as the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly take shape. I also mentioned, in passing, a little bit about virtual town halls. Today, I want to explore this idea in a little more detail. Please, consider joining my effort to get a good virtual town hall going.
On the Connecticut General Assembly website there are various lists of bills that have been introduced for this session. Some bills are listed by the chamber they were introduced in. Others are listed by the committees they've been referred to. Some bills will get to the point of having a public hearing, where people can come in, talk for about three minutes about why they support or oppose the bill, or, in some cases, even talk about amendments they think would make the bills better. However, with the public hearings, there is no real dialog and discourse between people testifying about the bills, except maybe informally standing around the committee conference room.
I was recently on a phone call with a person interested in promoting deliberative discourse and we talked about how there aren't great sites for doing this. I mentioned a few different sites that might have potential to do some of this, so I explored what it might be like to try this for legislation.
In my mind, such a site would have a list of bills, with different ways of finding the bills, based on who supports or opposes the bills, what committees they've been referred to, tags about specific topics in the bills, and so on. Each bill would have the ability to have comments. The comments would be threaded so people could comment on comments. Ideally, a thread about comments could fork off of a discussion and perhaps join other discussions. We often see this in computer software and various systems for tracking changes in software have the ability to support different sets of changes to a program that are related to one another, but not other changes. Something like this could be good for discussions about bills as well.
One of the first systems I thought about to use something like this was branch, and I set up House List of Bills 1/23/2013. I sent out a message via Twitter about it, but haven't gotten any responses yet. Without a bunch of people participating, I can't test to see how well Branch handles these sort of discussions, but I haven't seen a good way to do some of the discussions I've been talking about. It may be that there is some way to do this, and I'm just not finding it.
Another system that I like is Pearltrees. I did a bit of work with Pearltrees a year or two ago, but set it aside. I've revisited it. I've set up the 2013 CT General Assembly Bills Pearltree. Again, I spread the word on social media, and one person followed this. As you might guess from the name of the system, it is focused on trees; there is a strict hierarchy. You can change the hierarchy quickly and easily, but any link always has just one direct parent. This makes the idea of looking at bills different ways more difficult, but not insurmountable. You can duplicate a pearl to be in multiple trees and when you add a comment to one pearl, it is shared in other pearls. You can also add notes, but the notes don't seem to get duplicated between different pearls. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. Pearltrees also shares nicely to Facebook and Google+. Right now, I'm thinking I'll explore this most.
All of this made me think of another system I had tried a few years ago called Mixed Ink. I went back to revisit it, but they have a fremium model and I don't think I can do the testing I want, without paying for an upgrade, and I don't know if it is worth it.
So, anyone want to join a virtual town hall to talk about different bills?
Earlier this month, I organized a Citizen's Town Hall where people from Woodbridge and the surrounding area could come and discuss the issues to be addressed in Hartford this year. It was a nice, informal little gathering with about a dozen people showing up, including people from the League of Women Voters and State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus and others. We talked about how there have been other gatherings like this, sponsored by the league and other groups and how we thought it would be good to continue meeting like this. We briefly introduced ourselves and talked a little bit about the issues we hoped to see addressed in Hartford. We agreed to meet again on Thursday, Feb 7th at 6:30 PM, again at Wheeler's Market-Cafe in Woodbridge.
Since then, Rep. Zupkus has announced that she will be holding a town hall in Bethany on Tuesday, January 29th at 6:30 PM. State Rep. Themis Klarides announced that she would be participating in that town hall.
I also received an email from Rep. Brandon McGee that he will be holding four town halls in his district between January 22nd and Feb 13th. It is great to see more opportunities for people to come together and address issues in Hartford.
On top of this, several people have been sharing various bills that have been introduced in Hartford via Facebook, creating a sort of virtual town hall. One person posted a link to AN ACT PROVIDING FREE ADMISSION TO AND PARKING AT STATE PARKS FOR CONNECTICUT VETERANS and another posted a link to AN ACT CONCERNING A SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, introduced by State Senator Joe Crisco from Woodbridge.
I've also set up a Facebook Interest Group of state legislators that I am friends of or who have publicly accessible Facebook Pages that I've found. You can see what some of the State Legislators are up to on the list.
It seems like this could be a good year for discussing what goes on in the Connecticut General Assembly, and I hope many people participate.