The internet has given us a wider scope for debate and public discourse than ever before, and with it the ability to further develop ourselves.
As he sat down last January to write what would become a popular and controversial piece on social media usage amongst teens, Andrew Watts probably did not even think of what sort of responses he was to get. His entire motive, like most of ours, was just to write a good story and write it well.
When he published "A Teenager's View of Social Media", a Medium-powered colourful review of social media, I read it and thought it was fantastic. At last, the oldies will finally understand how we use social media. But in the midst of this, I didn't consider how other people may have interpreted it and came to a completely different conclusion on whom it related to.
One key response which then became even bigger than the initial post was Danah Boyd's "An Old Fogey's Analysis of a Teenager's View of Social Media". This plain-speaking post posited that, whilst Andrew was representative of a certain subset of teenagers, he was nowhere near able to capture the whole story. Boyd highlighted the (unintentional) whitewashing tone of the article, and how it skipped any mention of how anyone who isn't a white-middle-class-American-male may utilise social media.
The impact of this single response is profound, and proof of not only the power of Medium's response system (which is excellent and should be applauded for encouraging a rich-media longform approach to responses), but the internet writ large. To the best of my knowledge, traditional media platforms have not had significant mechanisms to do this sort of thing.
Responses to any article or writing have usually been of the short, vapid 'letters to the editor' kind that are mainly selected on the basis of how divisive their views are, and what will fit in between the columns of advertising. Else, they would be broad responses from someone with a large enough platform to have their own publication - so celebrities and public figures mostly.
Not only are we simply allowed to explore other's views, from the everyday writer to serious journalists, but I hope that this evolution of article composition will have a wider effect on society. The legacy of post modernistic theory, with it's ideal that there is no one single truth but all recollections are truthful in their own right, has shown us that there is great value in exploring the many perspectives that can explode out from a topic.
The potential to enrich our society through response mechanisms is simply in its power of teaching empathy. The very definition of empathy is in considering other perspectives and taking them into account when you formulate an emotional and verbal response. By exposing people to more perspectives and educating them about how other people think, you increase their ability to empathise. Plus, you decrease the tendency for bias to pollute your media - if you limit the editorial role in vetting responses, that is.
So I encourage writers, and publication platforms, to allow genuine and powerful responses appear alongside their works. It may be an essential step in furthering our humanity.