When T-Ball Met Twitter

We’ve certainly been manipulated by experts enough to make us skittish

By Diane Smith

When T-Ball met Twitter their love match looked bright

So charming and easy, but something’s not right

T-ball says “Expert or not, you all get to speak”

Twitter says, “Great, I’ll sum up in a tweet”

Twitter and T-Ball are on quite a ride

A real power couple. Just like Bonnie and Clyde

Remember when big decisions were made by convening teams of experts (remember that word – experts). These experts would vigorously debate a serious problem and arrive at a conclusion. Sometimes this was a unanimous conclusion; sometimes a “minority opinion” was included. Either way, the experts guided those of us who had neither the time nor intellectual bandwidth in a particular topic to render much in the way of useful input.

Then along came T-Ball.

T-Ball taught us that everyone should have a turn. Not a bad thing in grade school, maybe not such a great thing in really important decision-making. Indeed, T-Ball has, I fear, led to a blurring of the lines between opinions (which everyone has) and expertise (which, by definition, only a handful of folks can have). When exasperated I’ve been known to refer to this as T-Ball Nation.

Then we added Twitter.

“Ban GMOs!” someone Tweets. “Stop poisoning our food!” another chimes in. But, according to the experts, GMOs are complicated. Used to limit small farmers or corrupt food = GMOs bad. Trying to feed a fast growing world or to improve the health of millions of children worldwide who suffer from Vitamin A deficiencies = GMOs good. But such a two-sided, nuanced discussion won’t fit on Twitter. It’s also not very sexy so it probably wouldn’t get much play on Reddit or late night talk shows.

The old way wasn’t perfect. We’ve certainly been manipulated by experts enough to make us skittish. But, judging from the current state of things, the new way isn’t working out so well either.

Out here in rural and small town America, we have long struggled to gain access to “experts.” Perhaps for that reason, we understand more than most the priceless value of authentic expertise and the enormous penalty we pay without it. And we understand stewardship. Rural and small town Americans have been longstanding stewards of land and water, our unique lifestyles, families, and communities – it had to be that way; there wasn’t anyone else.

Let’s not lose that in this new century, even with all its great technology and opportunity. Let’s demand good answers to complicated questions; allow for answers that might not fit neatly onto a 3×5 card; and task our policymakers to discuss beyond soundbites the positions they’re taking on various issues. Most importantly, let’s acknowledge our own limitations and tackle tough questions with humility and openness.

T-Ball and Twitter are great, but today’s challenges require so much more. Now, I’m no expert, but I’ll bet even Bonnie and Clyde would agree.

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