the printed word at electric speed

In tribal organizations, influence often comes through kinship. It still does with certain royal families. In institutions, power is exerted through the hierarchy. It is positional. Even today, in a market-dominated society, many people are their institutional job title, and feel naked without it. But those who exercise power through markets can often throw off their job titles and not worry about their formal qualifications, as long as they deliver the goods (and services). [more on TIMN]

As we shift to a network-dominated society, we do not lose tribal, institutional, and market organizational forms. However, their relationships between each other will change. A person with strong network influence, with perhaps millions of followers on social media, can exert power through reputation, while still remaining inside an institution. But the power relationship inside that institution will have changed.  Bonnie Stewart alluded to this last night during her session at Mount Allison University on digital identify in academic scholarship.

Bonnie’s presentation on orality and literacy in scholarship particularly looks at Twitter and how it is a written (print) medium, but works in an oral fashion. Bonnie calls this new space the intersection between “speech-based expectations” and “print-based interpretations” [see slides 41-44].

Marshall McLuhan was correct it seems, in that “At electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits of their potential.” On social media, especially Twitter and other short forms of posting, the written word gets pushed to its limit and reverses to a new form of orality. This shift in communication is of importance to all of us.

Politicians need to understand it in order to connect with the citizenry. Our new Prime Minister is experimenting with different forms of communication even though I am sure he knows it is ripe for potential mishaps.

Educators have to immerse themselves in social media in order to teach about them. Bonnie gave the example of Jim Groom and his domain of one’s own initiative where students are encouraged to claim their space online. Business executives have to understand this shift in communications, so they do not treat text-based social media like print media. Even well thought out ‘campaigns’ can get co-opted, as Coca Cola discovered.

Social media are new languages and require mastery. Those who do not master them risk sounding like toddlers, or worse, villains who have offended some part of society. The medium is the message: we all need to learn how to use the medium, or our messages will be lost.

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