Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why can't we talk and tweet about serious issues?

So it's over. For now.

It was a fun week for political geeks, as the #respill, #kevenge and #ALPocalypse hashtags dominated Twitter like few other non-Bieber trends have for such a prolonged period. That's the social media world we live in now - a few days is 'prolonged'.

And nothing really came of it. Other than, hopefully, Kevin Rudd's quiet retreat to the backbench and then retirement. It was a battle between public relations and (attempted) good government, and for once, somehow, the latter came out on top.

But what does the Twitter activity around it all say about Australian politics, and even those of us who constantly begrudge the focus on superficial polls and leadership speculation at the expense of meaningful policy discussion and education. Yes, the leadership challenge was more than just speculation in the end, and the potential change of Primae Minister in these circumstances is definitely big news - it could have brought down a government - but it never actually looked like happening. It was all about one man's ego, and other people's obsession with (possibly misinterpreted) polls. And that doesn't excuse the media from talking about virtually NOTHING else since Kevin Rudd resigned as Foreign Minister.

This was a drama, led by a protagonist up there with the best in terms of vanity and meglamania and fed by petty infighting, not an issue of public interest. They need to sort their shit out and if - yes it may be a big if - the government can move past this now and focus on policy we'll all be better for it. But will the media pack of pavlov's dogs promote the public interest, or push for more excitement? It's easy news, it's sexy news, it fits the new instant gratification and production paradigm, and doesn't require the knowledge and resources for proper analysis.

And it's telling just how much more Twitter activity there's been in the last few days. Not to mention during QandA last week when the number of tweets sporting the #qanda hashtag seemed to plummet when the discussion finally moved on to issues of policy and genuine public interest after the halfway mark of the show.

I got sucked in - truth is, it's so much easier to tweet about Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and leadership than technical elements of policy. And it's more salacious, so it drags us in. It engages us more immediately, and we don't need to concentrate so intently to understand the content so it's easier to tweet about it at the same time - giving the impression this is what everyone wants to talk about.

But that doesn't mean it's what we want dominating the news, especially on the ABC! It doesn't mean I won't be pissed off when I tune in to Big Ideas on a Sunday and find it's been replaced with a news bulletin telling me nothing I haven't heard a hundred times already.

I'd dearly love to tweet intelligently, with an informed view on the Gonski Report, or health reforms, or disability legislation, but I don't know enough about it. I should seek out more information, but I'm just another time-poor voter who thought he could rely on the ABC to give me the meaningful side of the political debate. After the last couple of weeks I'm not so sure.

Even they are feeding us more of this crap now, because it seems to be what we want to talk about. But the fact is, most of us can't engage in the discourse on real issues because we don't know enough about them. It's a sad cycle of entertainment in shallow waters.

But at least we don't have a Prime Minister today who seems to live in the shallows, feeding an obsession with his own image. Maybe if he retreats quietly we can move the conversation back towards something meaningful before the next election.

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