Cue: Political Conversation

Wednesday hosted an annually famous political ritual: the State of the Union address. Did you watch the State of the Union? Or, more interestingly, what news source did you use? Personally, I didn’t even watch the address; I read the transcript (I’m more of a visual than auditory person anyway).

In the days following the State of the Union, I’ve been interested in hearing what news medium people chose to follow. Some followed the direct stream from the White House or the straight forward broadcast from C-SPAN. The perceived benefit here is that there is no commentary from biased political pundits; you get the voice of the speech, nothing more.

Then there are those who opted in favor of the commentary. Take your pick from Fox News, MSNBC or CNN, among others. These pundits do not shy away from political biases. With so many alternatives to choose among, audiences have the option of selective hearing; you can listen to the partisan (or nonpartisan) commentary of your preference. Audiences can actively and intentionally avoid commentary that challenges their political beliefs if they so choose. In choosing a network to watch, you also choose the voices to hear.

And let’s not forget the opportunities presented by social media. Social technology features an Average American-style commentary rather than that of big news personalities. In watching the address via Facebook and YouTube, audiences have the opportunity to comment on posts; those in the Twitter-verse used the hashtag #sotu to create and follow a conversation.  If networks give voice to partisan and professional figures, then technology gives voice to everyone else.

Be it through listening to partisan politicos or participating in social media dialogue, political engagement is a social experience. Information in the public sphere opens itself to collective interpretation. But what about those (like me) who seemingly avoided the public sphere? By reading the transcript, you could argue that I missed a fundamental part of the experience; and no, I don’t mean watching VP Joe Biden in the background of the visual broadcast. Political engagement provides an opportunity to influence social discourse. Listening to the ideas of others and contributing our own helps us understand issues and formulate our own opinions. To be an idealist for a moment, it’s a part of democracy.

Although perhaps my experience was more social than I give it credit. The transcript did make sure to include cues such as “applause” and “laughter” where appropriate.

-lb

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~ by Lindsay Bembenek on January 31, 2010.

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