Be honest, dear reader. You’ve done it before.

 

You pop open your sleek laptop, conjure up your internet browser of choice and coast effortlessly along the ripples of your Twitter feed, browsing the plethora of articles vying for your attention. You linger lovingly over your interests, perhaps scanning the text of a recent presidential address or devouring some hot new celebrity gossip. Then, seemingly out of nowhere – Pitchfork gives your favorite band’s spanking new release a 0.325 out of 10.

 

Well. You’ve been listening to that album since the millisecond after it was released, and it’s high-art brilliance is on par with Bach and that mad, murderous-looking chap who penned “Ode To Joy.” An atrocity like this demands a response.

 

You hop on over to Facebook’s friendly confines, post the link and attach some variation on “those %@#!#$ at Pitchfork are #$%@^#!$$#!!!!!”

 

You give it 30 seconds. What do you know? Your tasteless fellow Biology 301 sufferer comments and says you’re an #@@%$!% for daring to question the gods of Pitchfork. The battle commences. Seven hours later, both of you fail your biology final whilst casting murderous glances at each other from across the room.

 

Welcome to our culture of opinion on demand.

 

The trappings of digital dialogue in the 21st century are giving us a massive ego trip. We all have unprecedented freedom to give voice to our thoughts, to pull back the door on the inner workings of our minds, to publicly plumb the depths of our worldviews among the glowing tendrils of our Facebook feeds and Twitter accounts and sprinkle our perceived intellectual wealth along the digital confines of our online personas. We become instant arbiters of sanity, dishing out goblets of “real truth” in a world filled with loonies, intellectual also-rans, misguided friends and perennially deluded mother-in-laws.

 

The cacophonous flood of instant information is giving rise to a slavering demand for instant reaction, an automatic response mechanism that caters to our ego and erases any semblance of complexity from the way we view the world. We are tailoring our minds to strike on sight, dividing the onslaught of digital ones and zeroes that deliver our daily dose of need-to-know information into easily accessible boxes. We reduce the world around us into absurdity.

 

We pick and choose what we read, who we listen to, who we allow to speak into our hearts and minds. We render everything else in absurdist caricatures, presenting our opponents as cartoon villains whose opinions are deemed immediately unworthy by dent of authorship. John Boehner criticized President Obama again? The man’s brain circuits fried in his tanning bed a long time ago! No need to listen to him. Jurgen Klinsmann lambasted American adulation for washed-up sports stars? We totally agree with Michael Wilbon’s embarrassing, alarmingly reductionist and suspiciously ethnocentric rant on “Pardon The Interruption” — your correspondent realizes this is a caricature, but really couldn’t resist and is now happily reinforcing the whole point of his essay with his gleefully shallow treatment of Mr. Wilbon’s argument.

 

Modern media panders to clear and defined worldviews easily captured in a clever headline and readily condensed into a shout-worthy slogan. The reasonable gambol of moderation, the search for elusive truth somewhere between two sharply-defined extremes shuns 140-character soundbites and frankly, makes for boring reading. We want no part of it, as long as we can easily make straw men of opposing arguments and set fire to them in the public square, dancing madly around the flames.

 

There is something to be said for shutting up.

 

There is a beauty to thinking deeply, to sinking down into an issue and letting ideas close over us, to embracing the nuance that seeps through the cracks of everyday life. The free and open flow of ideas and opinions is a wonderful thing, but we have abused that very freedom and eviscerated the quality of public dialogue. The pendulum of digital conversation has swung too far into the realms of the acerbic, the simple, the trite and the outrageous.

 

We would do well to carve out a place where thoughtfulness and balanced discussion are welcome, not caricatured and laughed out of the marketplace of ideas. Life is colored in varying shades of grey. It is high time we resisted the temptation to paint everything in black and white.

 

What do you think? Does the tone and quality of public dialogue concern you? Or do you think your correspondent should get off his high horse? Start the discussion in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @aa_murph