Triumph of technology

The 2016 election provides no shortage of topics inside and outside the classroom.

Overwhelmed by tweets posted every minute of the Presidential campaign? Confused by cable TV hosts conjuring new, often contradictory, poll results?

You’re not alone. Whether you are a voter, campaign strategist, college student, or professor, the old lessons of political campaigns haven’t been very useful in this new era of politics and the media. Call it a Triumph of Technology, where there’s more information bombarding you than ever before. Information on candidates is now a commodity, available anywhere, anytime.

But voters who try to make the thoughtful, reasoned decisions we stress in our classes may feel like proverbial generals using the plan they used in the last war and being steamrolled by a changed technological environment.

You no longer need to own a printing press to publish your views.  Social media platforms have leveled the playing field, reducing the cost of entry. 

Just pick your preferred technology—print, broadcast, online, or social media—and avoid any cognitive dissonance by picking the political flavor you prefer.

I’ve been an eyewitness—and sometimes a participant—in changes upending campaigns since the 1970s. Before becoming dean of NYIT College of Arts and Sciences, I spent a decade as a political campaign reporter for The Associated Press, filing 4,000 news stories in the pre-Internet era.

Then, journalists were bound by now-quaint traditions of seeking a second source to verify news stories and waiting to get the other side of a story before releasing it. We were taught to “get it right and get it first”— in that order.

With the advent of cable news in the 1990s, endless information online, and social media advances, the continuing Triumph of Technology has allowed candidates to gain an edge whenever they harness a new means of communication.

Republican Donald Trump will be remembered for peering into the near future to realize the advantages of posting 140-character campaign messages instantly via Twitter. Shortly thereafter, cable news shows clamored to have him elaborate.

Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton uses technology to scour the broadcast news landscape, looking for Trump statements to use to her advantage. She immediately creates ads reacting to his statements and misstatements, distributing them to targeted audiences in battleground states.

Meanwhile, reporters use technology to fact-check candidate claims, often in real time and just seconds after the claim is made. Services like Politifact have applied their “Pants on Fire” designation to both candidates in order to draw attention to misstatements.

So, how are NYIT professors coping with this tidal wave of information while trying to teach students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate? How does a school with “technology” in its name guide students, help them become informed, active citizens, and show them the impact of technological change?

It’s no easy task. This past summer, our professors planned fall courses while facing the most unpredictable presidential campaign in U.S. history. Here’s their approach:

Communication Professor Larry Jaffee has his Journalism 101 students examining how social media allows false campaign information to spread faster than verified news. Criminal Justice Professor Andrew Costello’s students are studying how public servants are bound by legal and ethical guidelines to retain email and maintain separate public and private accounts.

Political Science Professor Michael Izady is looking at the rise of political violence and the rise and spread of fascism in Europe and America. Philosophy Professor Ellen Katz is taking her students back to Socrates to examine how often, or infrequently, critical thinking and support of facts occur on the campaign trail.

Four years from now, 2016’s technological breakthroughs will likely be as outdated as candidate signs on a voter’s lawn. Technology has turned traditional campaigning upside down, and the pace of change will only quicken. Get ready for more disruption ahead.

A world-class journalist, expert on environmental issues, and seasoned academic, James Simon is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at NYIT.


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