Communication in 2014

Reconsidering The Brave New World That Will Bring Unimaginable Changes To Our Lives.

By Thomas J. Roach

Every January sages writing magazine columns and newspaper editorials claim that we are entering into a brave new world that will bring unimaginable changes to our lives. I would like to reconsider the wisdom of this thesis.

I was born in 1951. Much of my early life was spent with my grandmother and grandfather who came from a world of horses and dirt roads and outhouses. I remember my grandfather smelling like cigars, the many hours they spent sitting in metal lawn chairs, and their solemn reaction when the last Civil War veteran died.

Their language was full of references to things that meant nothing to me: “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” What does that mean? Why would someone give me a horse? And if I did get a horse and if I were to look into its mouth, what would I be looking for?

We talk about how much things changed in our lifetimes, but I don’t think anything that happened since 1951 compares to the transition they made from horses to cars, outhouses to indoor plumbing, and cannon fire to atom bombs. Anyone who has ridden a horse, used an outhouse in Wisconsin in January, or put their head between their legs in a coatroom knows what I mean.

Even the pre-1950 technological advancements in communication media were more significant than the innovations in our lifetimes. Yes, we have computers and the Internet to speed up our exchanges, but what are we doing with our new technology? We watch movies, listen to recorded music, and exchange snapshots – all media that first appeared before we were born.

Reading and Writing
Most importantly, the main use of computer technology is reading and writing. We use emoticons, and we don’t have to wait for a pony to race across the wilderness to deliver our mail in a saddlebag, but we still send letters home talking about the joys and sorrows of the past year. We have access to thousands of pages of news stories, but we read about stock markets and lost dogs and recipes for eggnog.

It is important for professional communicators to not get caught up in the new media hype. Of course the technologies of communication are expanding exponentially, and language is evolving with it.

New words like “selfie” will be added to the dictionaries in 2014, and more of the dictionaries will be online than will be printed. Yet, communication is still linked to basic human experiences that do not change. Our employees and customers work and play and raise children and worry about bills just like our grandparents did.

It is easy to get distracted by the changes. Those of us who came of age in the 1960s had so little in common with our parents we had to invent a term for the problem. It was called the generation gap. They didn’t get our music or our clothes or our friends, and we fought and cried a lot. Then as we grew old and they grew older we learned to appreciate one another for who we were as human beings.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the passage of time is that understanding, forgiveness and compassion far outweigh the arguments over material things.

Looking Past
I encourage everyone in this new year to look past the advances in technology. Marshall McLuhan said in the 1960s that the medium is the message, but I think he was wrong.

First, medium and message are significantly different; the former serves the later. Second, the message is always more important than the medium; if a tree falls in the forest. Third, the message doesn’t change; it doesn’t matter if it is social media or PowerPoint, the message is made of words and the meaningful words are about values.

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