It’s because Abbott’s approach was so perfectly suited to the age. Much has been written about the 24-hour news cycle, and the culture of sound-bite politics it generates. All that is true. But the problem is much bigger than that. It’s society-wide.
Our entire mode of living is now built on speed. We communicate instantly and constantly, and we command an impressive array of gadgets to facilitate this. The very moment we receive news, we’re reacting to it, usually with virtual people whose role – either as ideological friend or foe – is pre-determined.
A political development is not as important as the immediate argument we intend to prosecute with it. We’ve arranged ourselves into teams, and we take our cues from our teammates. We’re becoming captive to a kind of digital tribalism.
This is a whole new sociology, and it brings with it a whole new politics of obstinate, snap judgment. Put simply, we commit too hard, too early. That’s why political parties take the huge step of replacing leaders so much quicker than they used to. They know we’re not really for turning any more. And that’s because, while we’re smothered with information, we simply don’t have time to digest it.
But since we all have megaphones now, it’s unthinkable to be silent; to have nothing to say. So we make noise. And, in the process, what we’re losing as a society is the capacity for reflection.
The other unfortunate result of this mentality is the “extremist” politics it encourages, both from relatively moderate parties and — dangerously commonly, these days — organisations like both the Tea Party movement and the 99% groups. When the only way to be heard is to be an extremist, then all will become extremists.
This way lies trouble.