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Uncomfortable Essay #4: More Ways to Communicate Less

It is a PROBLEM for the Peace & Justice community these days. Communicating with a broader and new audience is a distinct problem…and this only begins with acknowledgment that the ‘mainstream media’ seems relatively uninterested in our programs and even our existence. SOLUTION: To address this problem requires open and active discussion of who the unreached audiences are, and genuine openness to tapping alternative ways to reach these audiences.

I try to stay current with communication methods, but I am behind, always, the generation that is my grandkids age. Today is a time of intense change in how people communicate. We do have “more ways to communicate less”.

The basics and complexities of contemporary communication intersected for me on a mid-October Monday in St. Paul.

We had just left a political rally whose audience was primarily young adults. At my car, I was confronted by a couple about my age, accusing me of scuffing their bumper (I hadn’t). We argued back and forth for awhile, till I took out my camera and took photos of the non-damage. They left.

Except for the photos, the interchange on that St. Paul street could have been seen hundreds of years ago when the only communication was person-to-person. It is only recent in human history that new methods of communicating have been used, and these new means have exploded in recent years.

At the rally I’d just left, one of the speakers made a simple request of the audience: “cell phones up”, she said, as she held her cell phone above her head. It seemed like every young person in the field house had their cell phone out, and held it up. The speaker asked them to enter a text message number, and they did.

Me? I have a cell phone, and I had it there. But I have never used the text-message function, and if I did, I’d likely not understand the language. (I’m told that even e-mails are ‘in the dust’ of the past for many young people these days. They primarily communicate by text message.)

The week prior to the rally, I had helped assemble a traditional paper newsletter, with affixed mailing label, and stamped for U.S. mail. We were mailing the newsletter to people who would answer to the descriptor “senior citizen”, and while a significant number of our members have e-mail, nearly as many preferred or expected ‘real’ mail, and we used the olden days methods we were accustomed to.

(The computer guru for our senior organization says this about our way of communicating: half of our members have told us they have e-mail addresses (others likely do, but don’t like to get on e-lists). One-sixth of the e-addresses “bounce at times”. “Many entries are several years old”. “Of these we have no idea how many read our e-mails.” Of the total database, it appeared that about one-sixth had actually gone to the site to look at the communication. The only way we can communicate is by using varied means of communication. To my knowledge, we don’t even use news releases to traditional media.)

Last summer I was the volunteer registrar for the Peace Island Conference, where most of the 400+ registrants were of a generation similar to mine (gray hairs). 90% of the registrants had e-mail addresses; the remaining 10% do not, and most of these have no familiarity with e-mail at all, even at the library. We had to blend the new with the old.

In the just concluded election, YouTube became a major player. Four years ago there was no YouTube. If you grew up in the old days (which can be pretty recent) “What to do?”

We must take a very serious look at how the various audiences we wish to reach receive their information, and then use multiple means to reach the audiences we wish to reach. Best, of course, is person-to-person. But we need alternatives to those we grew up with.

Some years ago I became interested in how people communicate, and the below research based data from 1991 might be helpful to the conversation. The 1991 data was accurate at that point in time, and before. But it is no longer accurate. Still, we seem stuck there. From http://www.outsidethewalls.org/outside_archive5.html , idea for Feb 2004, Dick Bernard. Note also that the unranked secondary list that I generated for myself in 2004 is already badly out of date.

Hierarchy of Effective Communications (1991)
1. One-to-one, face-to-face.
2. Small group discussion/meeting
3. Speaking before a large group
4. Phone conversation
5. Hand-written personal note
6. Typewritten, personal letter not generated by computer
7. Computer generated or word-processing-generated "personal" letter
8. Mass-produced, non-personal letter
9. Brochure or pamphlet sent out as a "direct mail" piece
10. Article in organizational newsletter, magazine, tabloid
11. News carried in popular press
12. Advertising in newspapers, radio, tv, mags, posters, etc.
13. Other less effective forms of communications (billboards, skywriters, etc.)
Source: prreporter August 26, 1991 reprinted with permission.
pr reporter: http://www2.ragan.com/html/main.isx?sub=32

2004 informal list of some other types of communication which are new or have become more common since 1991 (not listed in any order of importance). Which of these, if any, would replace #1 and #2 in the above hierarchy?
E-mail, to a single individual
E-mail, broadcast to a list or group
Web-page
Phone message, to a single individual
Phone message, broadcast
Cassette tape or CD on a specific issue
Individual fax
Broadcast fax
Issue oriented video or DVD delivered to the home
Local public access cable channel program(s)
"Rally at the Capitol" or other similar media and solidarity events Etc.

Uncomfortable Essay #5 – “The Curse of Cooperation” will appear about mid-November.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 9, 2008 8:17 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Uncomfortable Essay #3: Taking a look at "Power".

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