Today’s Instagram, Tomorrow’s Doctrine

Originally published to Soldier Systems Daily in June 2016
By Aaron Barruga

Our attention spans are garbage. I can’t remember the last time I waited for an Uber to arrive and decided not to spend the downtime thumbing through Facebook and Instagram. As a millennial, I am guilty of forfeiting periods of self-reflection in exchange for the external stimulus provided by social media.

But is this dynamic something to be concerned with? In small doses, probably not, but my default to social media extends beyond waiting for Ubers to running errands, coffee lines, and as a work distraction (current piece included). The result, I am continuously seeking new content that reinforces “my” point of view.

The visual medium is powerful and a fifteen second Instagram video can easily accomplish what 1500 words cannot. However, substituting visuals for text comes at the deterioration of our deep focus and willingness to thoroughly examine arguments. We forgo substantiating our own beliefs with evidence (or dare I say experience), and instead reinforce our superficial expertise by simply watching a video.

Accompanying our echo chamber is the perception that we are capable, rational, and intelligent individuals; and that anyone who disagrees with us is both wrong and delusional. Our deep attention and focus already eroded by the brevity of social media, we also lose our patience for curiosity when confronted with opposing views.

Rather than first attempting to understand how our opposition arrived at their point of view, and then afterwards engaging in debate. We instead fill cognitive sandbags and entrench in our own belief system. But how are we so sure we are right? Because everyday (and for some every hour) we are bombarded with new content on social media that reinforces our point of view.

Although social media is a powerful tool that has built a community and united shooters on unprecedented levels, it is also the platform that allows for the rapid decay of objective knowledge, because we (millenials) are conditioned to constantly seek something new, and upon discovery will associate new with better.

Millenials are now more representative of average adults in America. Born between 1980 and 2000, millenials number 83 million and represent one quarter of the US population. For today’s military and law enforcement leadership, a majority of mid-level and soon to be senior leadership embodies the tech savvy, social media oriented demographic of twenty to thirty year olds.

This group of leaders will decide in the next decade what becomes doctrine for both the future of military and law enforcement training. Like it or not, social media will be a key influencer in this process. Current and soon to be training supervisors already connect with the training narratives created in fifteen second Instagram videos. This dual edged sword allows for greater access to information, but also allows for deviation away from lessons learned in the real world.

From lessons learned we build doctrine and standard operating procedures. Unfortunately, this process involves losing brothers and sisters in the line of duty. Learning from their mistakes and shortcomings, we attempt to find new and better techniques for engaging dangerous situations. However, we must exercise a healthy dose of caution in this process, and recognize that new techniques in their infancy must first survive critique and peer review before being endorsed as acceptable. Unfortunately, social media encourages us to shortcut the validation process and sanction incomplete or weak arguments simply because they are new.

Many tactical training schools made popular by social media have done an enthusiastic job of training organizations and individuals, but for the most part they have not prepared tactical shooters with judgment for the real world. Consequently, a lot of flat range training is suitable for use only on the flat range.

In twenty years, the next generation of tactical shooters will adapt our current social media influenced doctrine to address new threats, technologies, and radical ideology. It is uncertain whether platforms such as Instagram will exist in the future and how integrated they will be in our day-to-day lives. For now, social media’s inaugural authority on the advancement of doctrine can either become a platform for knowledge, or devolve into a medium through which companies exploit the naive, and users scream at each other in comment threads with pitchfork outrage.

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