in a handbasket

I asked my Social Media students to simultaneously watch President Obama’s speech Tuesday last justifying his position on waging a military action against Syria, and track social media responses on any channel of their choice, though most went with Twitter and Facebook. The results were predictable, and yet perhaps a bit eye-opening for some. They were asked to then comment on whether their own position on this issue had changed as a result of the rhetoric, both presidential and social.

Reading through their blogs evolved a trend, one that sustains a persuasive phenomenon, the automatic attitudinal response. We all have several of these, rearing their rigid heads whenever our values are challenged. These are values where we’ve dug in our position with either not exploring why we’re so convicted or having forgotten why. We just respond. For example, consider your visceral response, your gut feeling as you read the following words:



capital punishment


gun rights


gay marriage

Chances are something resonated within you on at least one if not several of these terms. A conviction or at least a strong opinion. I’ll throw in one more:


Now, before you stop reading (and if you feel compelled to do so, this is exactly what I’m talking about, your automatic attitudinal response) I’m not going to continue on about President Obama.

Though you can imagine how students may have responded to their social media feeds versus the President’s actual address. Those with a more liberal slant, those whose social media following is made up of like attitudes and positions saw the President’s speech in a positive context. Those who are more conservative experienced the opposite. There was some middle ground, particularly with those who didn’t edit their friend lists, and there was ambivalence, but overall this was an exercise in automatic attitudinal responses.

One student posted;

“Not many of my friends from Facebook watched the speech tonight. Most said they had better things to do like make dinner or play with their kids.

“One friend said, ‘I am making a fun dinner for my family ~ No matter what he says, he will do the opposite, he has lost my confidence and trust~:(‘

“My uncle had this to say about our involvement in Syria, ‘These countries have been warring for 4000 years. We need to stay out of their junk. If per chance there should be an incident on OUR soil then, we don’t wait for three weeks to react. We strike fast and make a grease spot out of the area and let that be a warning to the rest of the world.’

“Some opinions were very clear… ‘He is the serpent in the grass, Obama is the anti-Christ’

‘Obama is a moron’

‘Forgive my cynicism. I will get the highlights on the news, I doubt he will say anything surprising’. :)”

It’s not surprising as well that there’s nothing positive about President Obama on her news feed, for her Facebook and Twitter feeds, like most of ours, reflect and support her own attitudes. We like to be supported in how we feel, especially when we feel very strongly about something.

So, instead of extolling Obama’s virtues or parading his vices as a president, this is an attempt to look at pervasive if not default responses based on our own automatic attitudinal responses and how they shape our reality, one in particular, that it’s all going to shit.

I’ve written before on our apocalyptic predispositions. Living where I do there’s a concentration of the end-of-the-world attitude, even retail outlets with merchandise to survive post-rapture. And I can’t help but wonder if living with the conviction of the second coming, or at least under the auspices that the world is ending, soon, is there not a prevailing attitude of giving up on the world in lieu of planning one’s retirement? I’ve listened to heartbreaking situations of students and associates where their only hope is that it will all somehow work out in the end, hoping that the end is near. Many accelerate that end by taking it, and their lives, into their own hands; tragedy incomparable to anything imagined by John the Revelator.

This attitude is in step with the notion of how terrible everything is. If you live in Detroit you have reason to feel this way. If you have the ability to understand that last sentence, have a job, a place to live, perhaps even a secure relationship and yet still see the sky as falling, you just may be defaulting to that automatic attitudinal response, being supported by like-minded, persuasive and important individuals in your social media life, as well as other social and cultural influences like religion.

We all have our own indicators that make up that dichotomy of how life is going. For me it’s manifest in the future for my children, the prospect of health and security for my wife and I, and the potential for adventure and travel. Yes, I have nothing to complain about. For the world there are a few other indicators as defined at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The Guardian has put this in perspective twenty years later in their Rio+20 Interactive, looking at indicators such as population, life expectancy, child mortality, and more. For those Chicken Littles out there, there may be a few surprises.

The world population has increased by thirty percent in the last twenty years, an alarming growth rate especially in Asia and Africa, but there’s a fall in population growth rates that will lead to population stabilization in this century.

We’re living longer, unless we’re living in Sierra Leone or Detroit with domestic income being the single most contributing factor to longevity of life.

Child mortality is dropping thanks to similar health care considerations that lead to living longer. Again, the dividing factor here being income. High income families of lower infant mortality rates.

Poverty is down significantly in part thanks to the economic uprising of East Asia, while food production is up, though this has impacted the world environmentally. Though more food is being produced, more people are going hungry due to food prices, not availability. Despite the economic downturn of 2008, we’re making more money than before. Less lives are taken in war, literacy is increasing, and more women are in positions of influence and power.

But, and there seems to always be a but, the study’s data show that generally we’re not as happy or as satisfied as we’ve been in recent years. In fact this slide appears to coexist with the development of social media. There’s a correlation to the increase in the amount of folks who are online and the declining line on the z axis of those who are less happy.

I digress, though. Despite recent findings that Facebook is depressing college-age users, I’m not saying that social media is responsible for our happiness or lack of it. I am saying that tweets, posts and feeds can scaffold our own automatic attitudinal responses. When our own opinions and positions are bolstered by what can appear to be a majority of others, we can easily become entrenched in a skewed perspective of reality.

Like the end of the world. According to scientists, that’ll be another billion years, and they predict after that time only certain microbes will exist, literally going to shit.

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