Want to Get the Most Out of the Debates? Turn Off Social Media

It's Easier to Listen to the Candidates if You're Actually Listening to the Candidates

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I tried something crazy two weeks ago. Prior to the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, I put away my computer and phone and watched the entire thing without the so-called benefits of social media.

Now, anyone who's spent a day fighting with me on Facebook about politics or a Sunday afternoon watching an expletive-filled stream of invective directed at my beloved New Orleans Saints knows that putting away the crack pipe that is social media isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world for me.

But it was the best thing I could have done. Indeed, without the distraction of social media, I almost enjoyed the debate.

At the end of the debate, I thought to myself, "I'll give Mitt Romney the victory. Obama was a little dull -- but that 's not insurmountable. And, hell, Jim Lehrer kept his mouth shut and let the candidates talk."

Then I went online. Which is where I learned that Romney had won the election and Obama might as well just give up. This from Obama supporters Andrew Sullivan and Bill Maher, no less. Also, Jim Lehrer was a pushover who'd let things get out of hand. Republicans were doing victory laps. Democrats were gnashing their teeth and rending their garments. Folks were recycling lines about eye contact and body language and tone.

In other words, social media sounded like an unfortunate hybrid between the vapidity of traditional political media and the hysteria of sports fanatics.

This probably sounds like a "Get off my lawn!" moment. And I'll admit that my point here is pretty much, "Just shut up for a change, and listen."

Passion in politics is fine. Discourse, of course, is great (though I'm less and less convinced it's possible in 140 characters or fewer). But it's certainly not what happens on social media during a debate. Admit this to yourselves.

You are doing one of three things: a) looking for comments that you agree with to shore up your position, b) looking for comments you disagree with in order to fight, c) snarking on one or both sides because you're a funny guy.

Which is all fine and well for entertainment-not so much for focusing on the actual debate and arriving at your own conclusions based on what either candidate is saying. And it's much easier to listen to the candidates if you're, you know, listening to the candidates.

But hey, don't take my word for it. There are two more debates coming up. Try it yourself. Power down the laptop, silence the phone and turn on that dumb old TV.

Just be sure to turn it off before the political "experts" start chiming in.

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