“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” is often attributed as a quote by Thomas Jefferson. In reality, there is no known printed source to attribute that quote to Jefferson, but it is certainly an accurate paraphrase of his thinking. Another way to describe his views is that critical to the survival of a democratic republic is an informed public.
In this context, “informed” means that the public has access to the kind of information it needs to think clearly about issues, decide what the facts they hear mean, and draw conclusions based on what they have learned consistent with their own political beliefs and values. Either they will agree or disagree with what the administration is doing and what others are thinking depending on their own political views and values.
The public can be informed only through communications, and the communications process has evolved significantly over the ages.
- In Roman times such communications were the posting of decrees, etc., in public places;
- medieval times brought communications in the posting of decrees and through religious organizations such as churches;
- in colonial America, notices were posted, information was published in newspapers or posted, pamphlets espousing a particular view were published, and, occasionally, people could hear someone give a speech—albeit without modern amplification;
- throughout the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century, the means of communication to a broad public changed little until technological advancement brought the invention of the radio;
- communications became faster through the spread of newspapers, news at the movies, and the extended reach of radio up to the middle of the twentieth century until technology advanced communications through the invention of television;
- television provided people with the ability to not only hear news, but see individuals describing the news with video clips of events—sometimes live.
- with the development of cable television, the number of channels to which people had access exploded, and with that, many of the new channels focused on a single political point of view—conservative or liberal. People could tune in and hear the news—and hear the news consistent with their beliefs from a talking head in whom they placed their trust;
- In the late twentieth century, along came the internet that ultimately connected every personal computer in the world. Individuals could surf the world wide web and find whatever information happened to suit their interests and points of view.
- In the early twenty-first century, social media was added to the means of informing the public on a mass scale.
- Facebook enabled individuals with the ability to connect with virtually anyone on the planet that had access to a computer;
- Twitter enabled individuals to communicate their thoughts and limited what could be sent to a total of one hundred forty characters. Now an individual could share a single thought without any supporting evidence to followers that, in some cases, numbered in the millions.
The image below, created by Jasmin Palacios, summarizes in much greater detail the evolution of communications through the ages. Click HERE to go to DailyInfographic as the source.
In a sense, communications applied to polities has evolved into a highly efficient system. The net result of this technology-based communications system as applied to the world of politics seems to be as follows:
- A political message may be communicated at any time—day or night—on a moment’s notice, thus reaching a desired audience instantaneously;
- Followers of a particular person or organization can number in the millions—the total audience to whom a political message may be communicated can be massive;
- Followers of a particular person or organization generally are already “tuned in” to a particular point of view and tend to trust that person or organization. Thus, they accept without question a conclusion that might have been drawn from false information, facts that are simply wrong, or “alternative facts” (whatever those might be);
- The brevity of messages allows room only for a conclusion or recommended course of action without much (if any) factual support.
- A simple and short message or “tweet” can have an enormous impact on a dedicated audience of supporters.
Whether you support the current president or not, it is abundantly clear that he is a master of communications. With a simple tweet he is extraordinarily effective in getting his message to his supporters to the chagrin of those who do not support him. His messages are most often pointed at supporting a decision he has made, attacking the position of an opponent, attacking an entity such as the judicial system or the FBI, a personal attack on an individual he perceives to be a political enemy, or labeling facts or findings with which he does not agree as “fake news.”
The power of communications in the political arena cannot be denied. As a Critical Skill, the research that identified the eight critical skills as defined in my book, WANTED: Eight Critical Skills You Need to Succeed, is number one—a clear winner by a large margin.
The Communications Skill is the ability to get ideas out of your head and into the heads of others; the ability to get ideas out of the heads of others and into your own—all through the process of reading, writing, listening, or speaking.
It’s interesting—and true—that effective communications are independent of what is being communicated. Whatever is being communicated can be complete truth or totally bogus.
Go back to the quote at the beginning of this post:
“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
With more sophisticated technologies powering the communications process, bad as well as good ideas can be effectively communicated instantaneously to millions of people. Without the ability to think critically and carefully examine what is been communicated, our survival will be dependent on whoever communicates most effectively—not on the quality or merits of ideas that are good for the country.