Osama Bin Laden is dead. As soon as that news hit, people across the world took to the digital space in massive numbers to celebrate, mock, worry, and argue. Through this, we were all creating the meaning of this event.
This ability to create meaning is unique to our generation. Because of many of us can now publish to a mass audience – by posting, tweeting, blogging – we now all share the ability to shape national narrative.
So, how are we shaping it? With consideration and thought? Or with the same amount of energy we put into a tweet about how much we love Mad Men?
In the past, saying your idea to a large amount of people required money for a printing press or, more recently, connections to an agent. It took the time to write your ideas down and the expertise to hone your craft. Most importantly, it required the infrastructure to reach large amounts of people.
Now, we write down a thought within fifteen seconds and publish it to hundreds of people with just one click.
This is important to understand, because those who control what information is shared shape how we think about things. And now we all have a little bit more control.
When we publish, we state a thought to people. They then can accept, reject, or modify it. But our thought serves as a starting point for their decision process. By simply publishing, we set a frame through which meaning is created. In other words, we shape narrative even if what we publish is wrong.
So, if your wall on Facebook is filled with celebration for Bin Laden’s death, that becomes the meaning of it, even if you disagree. The argument becomes about celebration, leaving out other aspects of this complicated issue.
The narrative we all write about Bin Laden’s death will shape how we talk about our foreign policy, our future responses to terrorism, and our basic feelings on the appropriate reactions to violence – on a state and individual level. Each of us now has the responsibility for shaping that narrative.
We need to take that responsibility seriously and publish with consideration. Otherwise we risk creating a world we do not want to live in.