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THE INFAMOUS “INTERNET” FALSE ASSUMPTION: A LESSON FOR COMMUNICATORS

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One of the biggest mistakes a professional communicator can make is assume that because he or she is knowledgeable at communications now, or was good at it in the recent past, that that will always be the case.

Consider the following stark reminder – a Newsweek article from 1995 that has been making its way around social media after being publicized by a blogger. It pooh-poohs the Internet as a vehicle for communications and commerce. In retrospect, it’s sadly funny: http://bit.ly/94SEgb. (Recognizing that due diligence is a crucial element in communications and public relations, I double-checked to make sure this too-good-to-be-true article was, in fact, legit, and not a spoof.)

The article, headlined “The Internet, Bah!,” concludes: “While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.”

In the process author Clifford Stoll, an astronomer and scientist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifford_Stoll), trashes everything that we now know to be true: “Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities….Baloney….The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works. Consider today’s online world. The Usenet, a worldwide bulletin board, allows anyone to post messages across the nation. Your word gets out, leapfrogging editors and publishers. Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophony more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harassment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.”

Oh, really? But lest we laugh too loudly, let’s see what we might learn from this about communications, technology and…hubris:

• What’s out there now that we don’t recognize yet as a potential communications tool? The next generation of an interactive PR application like that used by Foursquare, or the latest reported push by Facebook to connect your likes and dislikes with news and offers from nearby businesses or complementary causes via an app on your smartphone?

• The Internet was a large factor in President Obama’s election victory in 2008, largely because his campaign used social media to mobilize young Democrat voters. Well, the very same strategy didn’t work for the Democrats in the just-completed mid-term elections. Young voter participation declined to near pre-social media levels. Sometimes we forget that newly successful communications tools can get old very quickly.

How might you apply Newsweek’s “teachable moment” example to your communications strategy, or to that of your clients?

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One Comment

Sally Jewett-Brocato

Interesting posting, Nick! A good reminder of how quickly things change and if you don’t keep up, you are most certainly left in the dust.

Electronic publicity of the 80’s and 90’s–once a shiny, new bright star–now seems almost quaint!

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