My tenure recently ended as the reader's representative on the Brainerd Daily Dispatch editorial board. Someone new (and smarter) has taken my place.
Although our discussions over the last nine months were fascinating, I will remember not the content but rather the nature of our dialogue. We thought. We talked. We argued. This is a good thing.
Many of us have the desire to see only what we want to see, hear only what we want to hear, read only what we want to read. If given the choice, each of us would most likely publish only the sports highlights that concern our teams, the editorials that endorse our opinions, and the stories that interest us.
In fact, this is increasingly possible. News and politics have become more individualized, more private and less a public and group activity. The internet allows us to filter out all that we don't care for by creating personalized information pages. Political campaigns are more sophisticated at targeting voters in their homes. We even put our decks in the back of our homes so that we don't have to talk with our neighbor about whether Larry King should have had a child at his age.
Rather than applauding the individualization of information, we should think about the consequences for democratic deliberation.
Much earlier in this century, long before the Internet was even a gleam in Al Gore's eye, political and cultural theorists were concerned about how modern communications media can have an isolating effect. One theorist called it isolation by communication. It is a paradox. We are yoked together by mass communication, but kept isolated when mass culture dictates what we wear and think witness the spate of miniature Britney Spears running around our neighborhoods. We are kept isolated, for example, when we accept editorials as substitutes for meaningful discussion with our neighbors. We congratulate ourselves on being well-read and well-informed, but forget that we have not really discussed anything with anybody.
In a world where new communications technologies have the possibility of eroding community dialogue and democratic deliberation, The Dispatch provides a counter. It welcomes a reader's representative on its editorial board. The Dispatch commits itself to publishing most letters written to the editor, and actively solicits guest columns to raise the volume on local voices. Just as the members of the editorial board rarely agree -- hence the variety of viewpoints offered in cartoons, columns and editorials -- members of our communities rarely agree. The Dispatch provides a forum where area residents can read, talk, and express their differences.
If you have written a letter to the editor, you are to be congratulated. If you have read something in The Dispatch (perhaps a Cal Thomas column?) and called a friend to grouse, you are to be congratulated. The Dispatch is a valuable community resource precisely because it protects us from our worst impulses and keeps us all talking.
(Imsande is Baxter resident who serves on The Brainerd Dispatch's advisory board.)
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