New Media

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Tackling the issues that matter

COMMUNICATION ISSUES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Media Messiah or merely socially inept  

Sorry Goldman Sachs and Russian billionaire investor; sorry Time Magazine Man of the Year love fest; sorry David Fincher, Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara and Bryan Barter movie makers; sorry even ‘da man’ himself Mark Zuckerberg; but most especially sorry my fellow communicators. The band wagon may seem the place to be at the moment when it comes to Facebook but as a communicator I take more comfort in finding myself on the soap box.    

All the brouhaha surrounding Facebook in particular (and social media in general) is, to paraphrase the words of someone who himself fared rather well as a populist communicator, much ado about not that much. To borrow yet another Bardism, and particularly in the context of measuring the possible ‘fall out’ of the fawning, I think we have a duty to look at ‘not what seems but what is.’?
The curmudgeon in me does get a tad ‘twitfaced’ when trying to wrap my brain around concepts of twinfluence, buzziness, and hyper-connected. I get even more concerned about comments from the likes of the Telegraph Group Limited’s Shane Richmond that ‘Facebook is bigger than the Internet itself’. But this is not the source of my dismay about Facebook.  

As communicators, we have a duty of care and obligation to being ‘gadflies and spreaders of alien ideas’. Rather than being dewy-eyed cargo cultists we need instead to take a critical look at the nature of the beast and be realistic about what it really is. 
As with any other media, it has its place but is it THE PLACE? And in the adoration are we missing some of the more residual effects of this media that are irrevocably changing us as humans.  

First and foremost, Facebook is nothing more than a media channel albeit with a range of accompanying problems and issues that are both constructive as well as destructive. It is fun, entertaining and superficially interactive which is why some people think of it as the new way to communicate versus being a channel for that action. The problem that many are now discovering is that these abbreviated versions of the ‘real deal’ are in fact creating people who now know no other means of interaction.  

At first glance, and as someone who played a small part in the push to promote the notion behind UNESCO Article 19—the Right to Communicate—I did get a buzz out of the potential that Facebook offered. The essence of Article 19 is “the right of every individual or community to have its stories and views heard.” In that context, communication is both an essential and very important need as well as a basic human right. Starved of the possibility to communicate and talk to other people, no individual, community, group or any other institution would be able to exist, or prosper. 

Strictly speaking the ability to communicate or the general right of communication make it possible to exchange opinions, thoughts and meanings. So it enables people to express themselves and show their own points of view. Consequently communication makes people who and what they are and particularly strengthens human dignity. By having the right to communicate and express personal thoughts, ideas, and opinions, people feel themselves treated equally and communication validates human equality. The protection and implementation of communication rights represents an essential part of the general topic of human rights.  

In that sense Facebook may seem Messianic, but from there the fall out does begin to raise genuine concerns. While the push for certain inalienable rights is noble, there is also an accompanying sense of responsibility that needs to be factored into any interaction and this is but one area where so-called social media become anti-social. Worse, it is a breeding ground of some of the worst attributes of personal interaction. Namely bullying. Other than toilet walls and tenement halls, where else can you publish outrageous untruths and hurtful invectives and then disappear into the ether of no accountability? No wonder that more and more users are recognising the trade offs of privacy when being on Facebook means the whole wide world is potentially in your face. 

We’re also encouraging people to electronically replace the ‘human’ aspects of communication as in face to face interaction where Meta messaging, verbal cues, context and engagement really do matter. We’re also replacing intimacy with a mega mall concept of friendship where ‘more is better’ and immaculate consumption replaces genuine connections. Plus in the pursuit of levity and brevity when it comes to important matters we’re actually lowering the level of debate and diluting the need for reflection and reaction. Clarity and context are also being left up for grabs.  

Case in point are the plaudits that Obama got in being the most ‘switched on’ and connected candidate as evidenced by his campaign’s use of social media. McCluhan would say that the media was the message-- change you can believe in” – was a promise – as was “Yes, we can!” These were unambiguous promises of uncompromising change. A slogan is more than just words – it is a statement of basic values. And if you betray those values or lie, you will not be forgiven. 

So, it is little wonder the Compromiser in Chief’s supporters are either bewildered or angry. The voters punished the Democrats in the last election – and you can bet that by 2012, they’re not going to want to be burned by Obama again. Or are they? As Lenin pointed out, you don’t get change until things get really bad! And that may well get lost in the photo gallery of Facebook.  

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