Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The lost art of communication?

On the curve

I read an article in the Newcastle Journal last week that made we wonder where I am on ‘the curve’. This article reported a presentation in which a digital media ‘expert’ called Joanne Jacobs claimed that bloggers are ‘old and finished’. Great – I only started mine recently and already I’m at the wrong end of the curve, or worse, behind it. That’s if Joanne Jacobs knows her onions of course. The report in which she was quoted came from a conference held at The Sage Gateshead called re:boot re:place. According to the Journal, Joanne went on to say that, because bloggers are finished, ‘people are moving towards Twitter’. Well now, I tweet too, so perhaps that puts me back into a better position on the curve.

You know what, I shouldn’t worry about this too much. I have never been desperately concerned about how ‘on trend’ I am – anyone who has witnessed my choice of hairstyle (and I use the second syllable here cautiously), music and ties over the years will understand that. The choices I make about my use of digital media are based on whether a) I can understand and engage with the platforms myself, b) I think that they can add something of value to the communications mix for my business and the businesses of my clients and, c) I have something of interest to communicate through them. Reading this, you may judge that I have mis-calculated on that last point. But I hope not.

This all brings me neatly to Twitter. Fad, phenomenon, irritant, viral nirvana. All of these and the rest. I use Twitter a lot and I believe that it has real relevance now to my trade, but I’m not obsessing and I aim to always use it responsibly and in a communal way. There is an ethos of sharing that is integral to Twitter, allowing information and insight to pass quickly to many people – I hope that fundamental principal remains a constant and it is what I mean when I refer to responsible use. Someone from the world of PR who has consistently been ahead of the curve when it comes to social media is Ste Davies, founder of 3W PR.

Ste recently spoke about the relationship between Twitter and PR at a conference and then kindly shared his thoughts with the rest of us via Twitter. The presentation,
Twitter and Public Relations, is still online on Ste's own blog site. It’s definitely worth a read and, along with a lot of sage practical advice, includes a few great ‘car crash’ examples of people using Twitter without due care and attention – slides 44-46 had me wincing instinctively.

I have embraced several forms of social media and will continue to use them extensively. However, there is a big part of me that is a traditionalist and I worry about the impact that these new forms of communication are having on society and in particular the written word. Suddenly, the point that someone wants to make has to be synthesised and distilled into a mere 140 characters in order to be communicated to the world. Incidentally, that last sentence came to 151 characters, so is too long to qualify as a tweet.

I enjoy reading well structured, cleverly composed copy that uses imaginative language, multiple clauses and ‘sparkles’. Even more, I love creating lively prose myself – writing is one of the real pleasures of my job (whether it is a pleasure to read or not!). But Twitter simply doesn’t allow for such elaboration and other social networks certainly don’t encourage it. This approach to communications will become habit and aspects of it will (and already do) infect the written word elsewhere.

Younger (though not exclusively) generations already text rather than email (as opposed to email rather than write a letter). And it's not just written communications that are affected by this developing trend. Use of the spoken word is changing too and a new programme on BBC2 called The Lost Art of Oratory explores this theme. The Beeb has also just launched a search for the UK's best young speaker - that could be interesting.

In the final analysis, I fear that we are losing a lot by gaining Twitter, Facebook and their like. While I accept a degree of the inevitability of that, it is also one of the reasons that I will continue to blog. I can express myself at will and at length – if you decide that what I produce is tedious, then you don’t have to read any more. Meanwhile, I’m already planning future blogs on the state of the media and The State of Play, and what makes a good song (in my humble opinion). I really don’t care where that puts me curve-wise and I certainly don’t feel finished, or too old.

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