This was the start of a very thought-provoking episode of Radio 4’s #DigitalHuman exploring “…whether we have all become techno-fundamentalists”.
In previous posts I have explored the role of social media as part of today’s corporate communicator’s arsenal of resources. Inevitably, I have also questioned whether the opportunities these new channels offer outweigh the damage they can cause – see Social Media : Expanding or Diminishing our Lives? I believe that one of the primary roles of the corporate communicator is to ensure that management understands the range of channels available and, most importantly, how each can fit into the overarching communication strategy. These days, even to be heard against an increasingly noisy backdrop let alone to engage the interest of your audiences, it is critical that you find the right channel(s) for each audience.
The hypotheses being explored in Intent – the Digital Human episode aired on the 22nd October – gave interesting context to the role and activities of today’s corporate communicator. For example: “Technology is changing our lives in ways we don’t understand.” So said CNN’s media and technology commentator Douglas Rushkoff, citing users’s interaction with Facebook to illustrate this assertion: “People, young people in particular, seem to be accepting these technologies at face value. They aren’t looking at Facebook critically but would say ‘Facebook is a programme that is here to help me make friends’ , [not appreciating that, in reality,] it is designed to help companies monetise [a user’s] social graph”.
We (society) believe that we are using technology to serve our needs. However, if you look at the influence that technology has over every aspect of our lives, you have to wonder who is in control?
While the narrative stopped short of painting a picture of mankind in thrall to an uncontrollable artificial intelligence, it does suggest that younger generations need to be educated to a new level of digital literacy, to look behind the programming and understand the underlying biases. Only then will individuals be able to reassert their authority over the technology they are using.
British author Tom Chatfield explores how email is a technological solution that is moving (has moved?) from the realm of blessing to curse. Email’s relatively swift metamorphosis from one to the other is perceived to be as much due to our growing preference to deal with machines, thereby avoiding the additional demands of time, emotion, interaction, that a ‘live’ conversation is likely to involve, as it is to our abuse of its functionality, such as adding numerous recipients and the automated response function. Rushkoff noted that the most technically advanced among us are starting to reassert control by, for example, using automated response to inform senders that any messages received while they are on holiday will not only not be responded to, but will be automatically deleted.
With email as one example, history has already shown us how technology that was designed to inform and engage has, through overuse, alienated a broad spectrum of users to the extent that more items are being deleted from the inbox than are being read.
Digital Human presenter Aleks Krotoski emphasises that “…the technology doesn’t create our human desire to connect, to buy, to search, to be entertained. It gives us a simple way to do this.” A good corporate communicator will find the message delivery tools that are best placed to inspire the required results plus, will also develop user guidelines that will help prevent valuable channels from becoming distracting irritants.