Tag Archives: Facebook

The medium is the message; or, the machines are taking over.

As figures for online news consumption soar, and newspaper circulations dwindle, I consider the idea that social media acted as the catalyst to get the masses involved with reading online news.

1960s popular culture Image by Nesster

1960s popular culture
Image by Nesster

In 1964 there was a growing fear in the western world. The atom bomb? L.S.D? JFK? Maybe; but in particular, perhaps echoed in the other suggestions, there was an anxiety about machines taking over and making humans redundant, at least in employment terms, although, a night spent watching 1960’s movies would suggest unemployment was the least of their worries.

The relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s well-worn enigmatic paradox of smart-arsery is arguably (in the sense that I will put the argument to anyone that will listen) more poignant now than it ever was in the days of free-love. The medium is the message, just like Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ has flattered many a media studies student, in the name of deceit; but I feel it goes a long way to describing the current state we find ourselves in.

It is the train journey that is important here, not the destination. Just like the automation McLuhan and his peers feared, could have ‘turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs’ it is not the social media platform itself, but the way humans use it. To use McLuhan’s idea; the machines, or the media or technology, are the extensions of man. That is; they only have meaning when they are understood as part of the human desire to give and receive messages – to communicate.

Image by vitalyzator

It’s about the train journey, not the platform. Social media is the transport not the destination. Image by vitalyzator

Social media has altered our relation with one another and to ourselves. It has changed the velocity, dynamics and scale of human interactions; and that is its message. ‘For the message of any medium is the change in scale or pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs.’ Just like McLuhan’s railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheels into human society, yet managed to accelerate and enlarge the scale of previous human functions and, in turn create new kinds of cities for people to live and work in; social media has not introduced anything new into human society.

Social media did not introduce digital communication, but changed the pace and scale of human interaction, and as such, quite independently of what it was created to do, dissolved the need for printed information, and in turn, lubricated the demise of the traditional press.

I know that online news was around before the rise of social media, and that newspaper circulations were dropping too; but it was when the content started to fit around the way humans were consuming information that it really took off.  Sharing news through Twitter and Facebook has become easy to do – and we do it, a lot.

It’s as if the legitimacy of the press has been revitalised through the new ways we share and use it. Alistair Campbell wrote this last week:

“Here is the thing. People do not trust politicians like they used to. They don’t trust the media to tell the truth like they used to. They don’t trust banks or brands. So who do we trust? We trust each other.”

And that is my point. If we all value each others’ opinion more than the media, then the stories from the media will gain cultural value as they pass through us, as conduits for the traditional news story.

Is second hand news more valuable to us than stories direct from the news conglomerates?

Maybe, we trust each other to act as filters to hold back anything biased or challenging to our view of the world.

Lets take The Sun. As I write this the latest ABC figures show that, although their daily circulation remains at a healthy 2.2 million, its year-on-year change is down 13% compared to the online figure of +16%; The Guardian has almost 83 million monthly browsers, a 37% rise year-on-year. The Daily Mail‘s circulation is 1,787,577, down7.5%, where the Mail online attracts an average of 8.2 million daily browsers at a +47% year-on-year change; I could go on.

We do find it humorous to think of our silly descendants; so scared of technology and ignorant of change that they thought machines would take over their jobs. But maybe we should learn to take heed.

McLuhan warned us that it was the medium that was the message. He told us that the message was how a medium affects humans, and social media has affected the ways we choose to consume news. Social media has dissolved traditional journalism – machines have taken over after all!


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The Plurality of PR twitter accounts

Image courtesy of eldh's

Image courtesy of eldh’s

After convincing a class-mate over lunch in the university cafe to ‘follow’ me on twitter I triumphantly tilted my head southwards to check the latest boost to my ‘followers’ statistics only to be blocked with an abrupt exclamation, “Was that my real account or my professional one?”, evidently she wanted to know if she had used her original twitter account, or her alternative, more formal PR ‘professional only access’ account.  Of course, this was not the first time I had heard of dual accounts; one for weekend associates and an alternative account strictly for co-workers, employers or indeed, potential employers.  However, it did get me thinking.

As Public Relations practitioners and ambassadors of the corporations we represent should we not be more willing to show a better level of transparency.  Transparency after all seems to be the main thing publics want from the corporations they buy from or rely upon. Shouldn’t we be defending the media image of PR. Parsons (2004:15), like many propagates PR’s ostensible powerlessness to communicate its own identity in a positive way?  “Like it or not the notion of failing to tell the truth, or spinning the facts, is part of the public’s image of public relations.  And who can blame them when this is the media image that is cultivated?” PR isn’t very good at doing its own PR!

Part of the CIPR’s vision is for practitioners to “(make) an important contribution to society through our ability to build dialogue and trust” and the first of the Institutes values is trust. As a society and a professional body, do we not strive for an atmosphere of transparency and trust?

Yes, what about trust?  Are we sending out a subconscious, or indeed an overt message that we are doing something that we should not be when were not networking with our industrialized kindred?  Are we sending out invitations for suspicious thoughts and the creations of cynical narratives of what we might be ‘really’ like?

If potential employees can trust that they know what we do on a Saturday night (if indeed they care?) are they able to trust us more, or perhaps even find a little common ground?  Can’t we all agree to accept that we are all normal people who have a career and a social life?

Reichstag, Berlin

The Reichstag, Berlin.
Photography by Oh-Berlin.com

The Reichstag, the parliament building in Berlin has a glass roof, which functions more as a metaphor than an actual opportunity or request for Berliners to spy or check up on their politicians.  The message is simple: this is what we do, all of the time, not just when we have arranged appropriate times for you to watch us.  Needless to say (I hope), that I am not claiming that a strictly confidential personal twitter account in an uncontrollable phenomenon where our Id will shatter the defenses of the Super-Ego; we are all obviously conscious that we are blogging (or micro-blogging, to be precise) on an unrestricted open and public platform.

Okay, so I am not going to write on my CV that I love the Smiths, but it doesn’t mean I won’t talk to my boss or a colleague about their poetic prowess.  I’m sure my boss would be very offended if I orchestrated a refusal to disclose any shared hobbies or passions we may have.

I may wish to discuss the effects of government spending cuts on the quality of journalism on Wednesday afternoon, but then complain my football team’s new £10million striker should have let my Granny take that penalty for him on Saturday evening.  Is social media a reflection of society? Is our society segmented and fragmented dependent upon the specific publics we communicate with? Yes.  But do the other publics need to be restricted from knowing our other communications?

If you chat with someone on twitter, and my @tag is not included, am I eavesdropping if I read it?   If I use twitter to promulgate ideas and splutter confessions during the small hour when my inhibitions elude, me to no-one in particular, am I not shouting out of the metaphoric window to unwilling passers-by?  If someone is interested in your day to day happenings that you happily and frequently blog, cant that help another person form their opinion of you (if they even choose to take notice in the first place), or should people only get to see you at your most competently sharp?  You may even show someone a more favourable side to yourself, someone with multiple interests, some one who is human, just like you.

The public want to see transparency in the companies and businesses they spend their money on or trust for advice and guidance. As PR people, with the most listened to public voice, and the embodiment of what the public perceive as the corporative world, I feel we have a responsibility to show a transparent and trustful outlook and that these values should be reflected in our actions.  The media has done a great job of making PR look bad, why can’t we now use the media to start to put the record straight?
In any case, why can’t we just have all of our specialist extra-curricular tribulations on Facebook?