Although some of you may find this hard to believe, I’ve never been on the listserv. That testament to fair-minded, civilized conversation has been deemed dangerous to my mental health by the power-that-is, Lisa. Usually, whenever it’s suggested I do (or don’t do) something for my own good, the contrarian in me takes over and does the opposite. This doesn’t make me unique, just human.
But in this case I’ve followed her advice.
As a matter of fact, I’ve gone one step further: I stay away from Facebook. Not entirely, mind you. I look in occasionally to make sure my home page is as I left it, but I’m definitely not a daily consumer. I keep thinking that one day I’ll get back on and spend the time needed to really set my profile up as a monument to my greatness. It seems these days I’m not really bona fide without numerous social media profiles enumerating all of the wonderful details of my puny little existence, as if it legitimizes me as a worthy participant in the human race.
Strangely enough, though, there are aspects of Facebook I actually like, but I’m afraid if I say them out loud—or in print, as the case may be—kid-billionaire and his cronies will decide those things are unprofitable and nix them. Call me superstitious. I thank the Great Architect of the Universe every day that we have Nicole handling social media for the magazine. Without her wonderfully fabulous talent I would definitely be in the psych ward. By gosh, I think you should go “like us on Facebook” right now. I know Nicole would appreciate it. So would Lisa. And those 10 or 20 new “likes” would justify my existence by proving that my editor’s letter is widely read.
One of the cool things about my job is being exposed to snappy new words. Actionable. Communicative. Analytics. Semiotics. Using effective and affective in the same sentence— it’s like slumming with a cadre of Google strategists. Still, it beats hanging out on the listserv all day anonymously berating people I don’t know about things I know nothing about. Then again, I suppose I’m lacking in the virtual cojones department, preferring instead to take the easy way out and tell someone how I feel to their face.
Maybe that’s why the furor over residential development has me perplexed. You’d think that every neighborhood meeting citywide would be packed to the gills with people demanding that their voices be heard. I’ve been to a few of these lately and can report that attendance is meager. Those who do attend usually have a vested interest—a so-called “two-plop” three-story duplex being built next door, or a subdivision planned across the street—but they’re also bearing the burden of anyone who cares about the character of the neighborhood. Even the developers I’ve spoken with find it hard to understand.
That’s not to say I don’t understand the anger and frustration boiling up here in the ’hood. It’s not the architecture, per se. Most of the two-plops would be perfectly acceptable given the proper setting, and some of them are really nice. No, it’s the context that has people bent out of shape. Maybe we all have some sort of urban-residential-proportionality index rattling around in our collective psyche telling us these “duplexes” are spoiling the vibe of the street. I would even say the same holds true for those responsible, but they must be employing a specialized type of cognitive dissonance, egged on by memes like “density” and “profit margin,” that makes them immune to the existing street vibe.
Populist outrage has its place, to be sure. It can elevate public awareness of issues, and when it’s at its best populism can be a call to action—guerilla marketing for the public interest, if you will. The problem, especially these days, is sustaining the public’s attention, and, therefore, its dedication to the cause. Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the Enlightened Ones understood this, and must have foreseen the 24/7 news cycle. Which is why we live in a republic rather than a true democracy.
This illustrates the limitations of populist outrage. Affective slogans don’t always translate to effective leadership, and that, my friends, is what we sorely lack.