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Smoke signals fascinate me. Somehow, with tiny clouds separated by space, the messengers summoned help or shared news. The payload of the communication medium limited the quantity of pertinent data, but what an ingenious mechanism for pushing news across great distances.

Today we are spoiled with a plethora of communication options. I can send a letter via snail mail or transmit an email around the globe before our mail carrier picks up this afternoon. I can post something on social media or make a phone call to speak with a person in real time. With text messaging I can compose and transmit garbled sentences complete with misspelled words dancing in a punctuation drought, yet somehow Shawn decodes the content. Last evening I Facetimed with my daughter who lives in Hawaii and devoured the latest video of the adorable antics of my grandchildren sent courtesy of my other daughter.

Despite our technological developments I fear Americans are dumbing down in our interpersonal communications. We dine on a steady diet of video and sound bite snacks. Free time, once used to improve the mind through the reading of such antiquated inventions as newspapers and books, is now expended in a browsing frenzy through online tripe that disappears or becomes outdated in a few hours.

Red Smoke

And how dare anyone post something that either a) skewers a person I support or b) presents an alternative opinion to the one I hold! Anger empowers unrestrained responses as we type things we probably (hopefully) wouldn’t utter in person.

The ultimate slam is to unfriend without remorse that former colleague or relative we reconnected with after years apart. The message of social media behavior seems clear –“If someone’s position differs from mine I question his worth and humanity. Since I can’t eradicate him from the earth, I can at least remove any appearance of him from my news feed.”

Social media does enable news to travel further and faster, but is it truly informing the population? Are we dialoguing on the issues or attempting to re-educate the opposition by out-wording their replies? What began as a harmless method for sharing snapshots of our lives has morphed into a powerful weapon for fostering hatred, division, and community-defeating displays of selfishness.

Flames

On encountering that last offending post did we allocate any time to investigation to see if the point held merit? Sadly, the refusal to investigate applies to mainstream media as well with network after network parroting the party line. The malady of click-bait headlines is real and designed to boost visitor-to-site counts rather than intelligently inform readers. The goal of informing seems to have taken a backseat to an insatiable desire to influence through any means necessary.

Here’s my challenge. Next time you read a post that upsets you, be smart. Take a few minutes and conduct your own investigation. See if the post holds merit. In the case of bills pending before Congress and quotes (or misquotes) from speeches the actual text can be located quickly with a web search. That allows us, the intelligent readers, to peruse the actual words for ourselves, to draw our own conclusions, and to refuse to swallow pre-chewed opinions.

The responsibility for the restoration of intelligent communication rests with each of us. Are we doing our part?

We should validate content before we repost or share.

Why not wait a few beats before posting our responses?

Can we make it our personal motto to refuse to fuel flame wars?

Does our social media footprint reflect politeness and courtesy?