Thursday, March 17, 2016

gaps and bridges

Joseph E. Stiglitz has a nice little article today entitled The New Generation Gap in which he offers some explanation as to why the Sanders campaign has accumulated the overwhelming majority of the under-30 vote in the primary race.  I am not so sure the gap is a new one,  but I think it is probably right that it has widened.  As Stiglitz notes, the exponential draining of the middle class to fill the coffers of the 1% has had a particularly severe impact on the young who are faced with a difficult present and a glum future.  As a result, the young are well attuned to detecting political and economic bs and they are making their discontents known.

One bright spot in an otherwise dim and threatening landscape is the fact that the young own information technology.  It is hard to find an American under thirty these days who is not engrossed and proficient in the use of all kinds of modern communications tech.  My granddaughter was an expert tablet and pc user before she got to the first grade.

I understand the cynical view of many that a lot of high tech is a commercial cesspool and a distraction from engaging reality, but it also seems undeniable that it has been a great source of empowerment for the young.  Just compare the accessible sea of information being navigated by today's youth to the little ponds in which previous generations like mine swam. We had landline phones, tv stations fed by just three big networks, and scribbled notes exchanged furtively with classmates behind the teacher's back.

Not only are today's youth able to communicate effortlessly with each other, they are also able to access a staggering range of information and opinions from throughout the world on every conceivable subject, and little of importance seems to go unnoticed or unrecorded.  Powerful statistical analyses are presented in ever more concise graphical formats, and machine translation of all the major languages has made great strides in unbuckling America's straightjacket of monolingualism.

To be sure, powerful control over media is exerted by the big money players, but people like Stiglitz and those of lesser stature are still able to reach vast audiences to express dissident views and interpretations.  Using modern communications technology as an organizing tool may not be the exclusive property of progressive youth, but the transparency of the medium seems likely to tilt the board in their favor.

(For an insider view of the use of communications tech and how it meshes with campaign organizing see the article at The Nation, How the Sanders Campaign Is Reinventing the Use of Tech in Politics.)

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