I recently read Doris Kearn Goodwin’s excellent tome “No Ordinary Time” the story of the Roosevelt’s War Years (1940 to 1944) in the White House. Lots of interesting stuff, particularly relating to the role of Elinor, as First Lady. The title words are taken from Elinor’s acceptance speech to the Democratic Convention on behalf of her husband for a third term as president. Who says there has never been a female president?
A large part of the message contained in the book is that, in those times, people were actually listening to what their leaders were saying. Or perhaps it was that they had the time and the inclination to listen.
FDR invented the idea of the Fireside Chat to be carried over the radio, as a time for him to make the case to the public at large for the policy he was proposing in the legislature branches of government. No doubt the President was a super salesman, in that he was able to convince a skeptical public to rearm (thus saving the country from the Great Depression) and come to the aid of England then struggling in the Battle for Britain. But he also had something else going for him namely exclusivity. Radio was the only game in town.
Compare this to the jibber jabber we have today; the one thousand channel universe, Google, facebook, twitter and yes the all important “trending”. Is anybody listening? . Does anybody care?
The technology of me now, has taken over and is racing away with the future, creating a new elite and leaving the old behind, mumbling about the unfairness of it all. To wit uber , airbandb,amazon and iphone. It is as if the old elite are running to catch a train that has already left the station.
Political campaigns are now fought in sound bites and the social media, as is the battle for fleeting public adoration. A hero or a goat, it all takes about the same amount of time. Live and in color on the iphone , in all its glory and brutality, is now the norm.
Perhaps it is because there is no time; everyone is too busy multi tasking. When F.D.R. broadcast his fire side chats he was talking to stay at home Mums and working Dads. Now he would likely be talking to a tablet owned by a executive Mum or maybe a stay at home Dad, who drives for uber, looks after the kids, and manages the family home as an air B&B.
What this leaves me to wonder is do we still have the tools to build social cohesion should the need arise. So far the evidence is unclear; maybe with the assistance of the new here and now generation we will grow into this strange new world.