It takes time to form an argument



In 1858, then presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln debated his democrat opponent Stephen Douglas in what is now dubbed the The Great Debate in 1858. The notable thing, other than the content of the discourse, was its length. It lasted 7 hours.

Douglas delivered a 3 hours address. He presented his ideas and arguments for his candidacy. Lincoln listened quietly while taking notes and pondering. When Douglas finished, Lincoln asked the audience to go home, have dinner and come back refreshed. He warned them that his rebuttal would take at least 4 hours.

Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death, contrast this with modern political debates that last only a fraction of the time. Here is what they asked the President:

President Bush, what is the problem in the Middle East and how can it be solved? You will have two minutes to answer.

No matter what his idea to solve the problem is, it is fair to say that it should take more than two minutes to come up with a plausible answer. Of course, the rebuttal by the then Governor Clinton, was just one minute long.

The age of television shrunk the debate into a one-sitting digestible form. And Neil Postman thought this was too fast. But what would he have said about the Internet age?

The internet reduced politicians to delivering their plans for the country in a single tweet. In comparison, that's enough time for a glance. This is not enough for any thing meaningful. TV gave us soundbites. The internet gives us a the meme.

It also affect regular people. We start to think complex problems have simple solutions. In the length of a tweet, you can only say things are good or are bad. There is no room for deeper understanding. There is no room for an argument.

The more I take part in social media, the more I have the impression that I understand different problems. But the moment I try to open my mouth to give my two cents, my argument falls apart. All I have are memes, soundbites, and the first result on Google.

It takes time and effort to form an argument. It requires absorbing information, and then thinking about it. When you see a one liner online that makes sense, take the time to understand it. Most often then not, it doesn't make much sense in the grand scheme of things.