Not just the future of civilization is up for grabs this November. In this age of mobile social computing, we’re figuring out how to vote, entertain, teach, learn, and commit to meaningful change. Thanks to the pandemic emergency, our plans for transforming our country and planet are subject to immediate recall.
Much of the current political dynamic is expressed through the lense of “how much change can we afford to make?” The swing states in the race for the electoral college are those most profoundly affected by the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. The choice: how many jobs will we lose by shifting away from oil and gas to wind and solar. Workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan are fearful of losing their livelihood to a future of retraining and disruption.
Regardless of where we sit along the left/right spectrum, we share the increasing understanding that government doesn’t work. Running for office is a gauntlet of fundraising and promises you can’t keep; legislating is a lobbyist playground where special interests are neither special nor in our interests. The courts are overwhelmed by political power plays timed to inflame and suppress voting turnout. It’s no wonder that the common reaction to this week’s final presidential debate was relief that the campaign is almost over.
The most important fix to the body politic is the mute button. For a brief moment in the debate, we got to experience a few seconds of not talking. Time seemed to stand still, as if we were being handed down a digital tablet of things to not do: don’t interrupt, don’t disrespect, don’t mock, don’t waste our time. Above all, don’t forget the people we’ve lost to the virus. Remember the days when our biggest problems were what show to watch, what music to play, what jokes to tell. It’s amazing what you can hear when the agenda is turned back to ourselves.
In that moment, you can hear things that smooth the soul. In that moment, you can hear the words leaders will have to speak to get our vote next time. I feel much better about the next election no matter how this one turns out. The explosive numbers of early voting tell us a lot about how this will go. The genie is out of the bottle and people are beginning to connect the dots. If the vote is suppressed, it only makes us try harder.
Mobility is about a return to value, to roots, to resilience. Working from home is a big step toward living from everywhere. AR stands for accelerated reality, VR for valued reality. If we want to know what social is good for, switch on the mute button and listen to what you’ve lost. If you can mute the sound, you can unmute it and find your voice.
At first, the mute button was a defensive move. It counteracted the business model of the cable news networks, the repetitive time-filling of partisan perspective mixed with not listening to the grievances of the other side. The hardest thing I've had to do is be open to the truth emanating from the least likely location. We are taught to attack our opponent’s weaknesses; a better strategy might be to respect their strengths and adopt them as your own. Don't worry, though. You probably won't find too much there to reflect.
Once you experience the mute button envelope, you can hear it even if it’s not there. The rules of the revised debate were that the first two minutes of each candidate’s response used the mute button, then the old rules returned. Even then, the experience of using the mute button informed the rest of the debate. Particularly noticeable was Joe Biden’s response to a series of back and forths when the moderator asked if he had any further response. “... ... ... No.”
There have been other mute buttons in history. The 18 and a half minute gap spoke loudly when Rose Mary Woods erased a crucial Watergate tape. Before that, we assumed there might be a smoking gun. After that, we knew there might be others, too. Throughout the campaign, we could learn more about what was really going on by listening for the moments when key questions were left unanswered, ducked, or bounced back to the opponent like some Pee Wee Herman playground retort.
Soon we’ll know the answer to the important question: how do we confront the virus? I vote for listening to the science, wearing a mask, socially distancing both off and online, rapid testing, and contact tracing. And the candidates who agree.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
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