Yesterday there was a thought-provoking post on The Miller Times. I read it, tweeted it, marked it as a favorite post, and moved on; at least I thought I moved on. I woke up at 2:40 a.m. and these lines were still roaming around my brain looking for a place to rest:
I can’t help but think massive political protests/rallies/marches/shindigs/soirees have become arbitrary. We’ve got social media now, and sadly, a hashtag on Twitter goes a lot farther than 1,000,000 people standing united at the Lincoln Memorial. I admire the dedication, but the whole process is kind of antiquated.
This idea lingers because in just three short sentences it did more to jar my thinking about the impact of the social media revolution than anything I’ve heard anyone else say, including Bill Gates, the Google boys, and the rest of their ilk. It helps me process why, even though I’m on board and the train has left the station, I’m still not sure where the trip is taking us.
The massive cultural shift that came with our super-connections and constant availability must be something as seismic as the dawn of safe, affordable, socially accepted forms of contraception taking root in the United States in the 1960’s. It is nearly impossible for me to imagine an America where couples didn’t sleep together whenever they felt like it out of the fear of unwanted pregnancies, and yet I know it’s the world where my grandparents grew up. The tentacles of social change are elaborate and far-reaching from this single event, and of course not everyone thinks it’s all good. I think it’s fundamentally great, but would agree that there are new dynamics in people’s lives that are not as simple as “great.”
This is much like I feel about the changes to everything we do now, with such a huge portion of life lived online. The communication and education opportunities are incredible. The avenues for better understanding remote corners of the world are expanded. Many aspects of life are safer and more secure. Used well, social media tools allow for phenomenal new levels of productivity. And yet….there’s that pesky Lincoln Memorial thing. It woke me up before the crack of dawn, and I’m guessing this morning won’t be the last time.
I’m glad I don’t have to get on a bus and go to Washington, DC, to be heard. To be perfectly frank, I don’t have the time, money, or energy to participate in a march of any kind right now. But as the last Esse Diem post about Good Will Hunting explores, I know what it’s like to stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve stood there more than once, and it is an experience unlike any other. I expected to feel small, and yet I felt enormous.
Many people joke that Abraham Lincoln was fortunate to live in an age without television. He was quite an unusual and some say unattractive combination of proportions and physical features. History suggests he was soft-spoken, humble, and concise. The words of the Gettysburg address are some of the most well-known, beloved, and nationally signficant words every spoken in the United States’ history. From that address (emphasis is mine):
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Our world of online political and social action is real, and it is here. We are not going back. But if you doubt that Americans standing — being physically present — at the Lincoln Memorial still means something, I would say go. Go alone. It’s not necessary to get caught up in a demonstration or event. Go when you can, and stand there with the image and yes, the actual presence, of the man who saved the union.
It may not change the world in that moment, and it can’t be meaningfully hashtagged or blogged. It can only be lived, that feeling of being so big inside yourself at the feet of President Lincoln. Promise you won’t miss it — in real life.
Photo credit: Library of Congress on Flickr.com