Communication is culture

No one fully comprehended its impact in our culture, or its potential, and its limitations, and the new challenges that have emerged in relation to both the piracy and privacy of content.  It has literally changed our world. Donald DePalma describes the Internet as similar to “discovering the Eighth Continent,” that “confounds legislators and cultural purists worldwide who do not know what to make of the Web-based globalization phenomenon that threatens to make their geographic, political, economic, and cultural boundaries almost meaningless.”[i]

Of course, there are many benefits of an interconnected world through the medium of the Internet.  Rob Salkowitz, author of Young World Rising, points out that there is a new breed of entrepreneurs where the growth and spread of their “social networks is helping to catalyze the potential seeded by capacity-building investments, bringing people into contact with ideas, opportunities, and markets.”[ii]

And while there are still many organizations trying to come to terms with how their businesses should interact with the Internet, Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree acknowledge how the emergence of new media has redefined our culture in relation to how we relate to one another throughout history.  Perhaps this is why James Carey says, “Communication is culture,” and why the essays on the history of media collated by Gitelman and Pingree provide a healthy discussion around the place of media: how it is introduced, managed, and how their meaning and function is shaped over time from its use.[iii]  Insights from this volume of work include how media:

  • Communication and media frame our context and collective sense of time, place and space, and often defines what is publicand what is private and what is or isn’t accurate.[iv]
  • Media provide a structure to organize and transmit knowledge.
  • Media has the power to discriminate.  Historically, the hierarchy or “polite society” has used media as a means to safeguard class, age, gender or racial distinctions.[v] Cory Doctorow talks about the implications of this in greater depth in his book, Content, where he states that many of the poorer economies in our “Information economy” can’t afford access.[vi]
  • Media raise questions about the status and reliability of vision.[vii]
  • The medium used to convey a message communicates a certain reality through a particular lens that has the power to inform and shape what is seen and heard.  It is possible, however that the medium can alter the meaning of what is seen.[viii]

What’s the bottom-line?

We can see that communication boundaries are constantly being challenged.  It is wise to remember the following:

  1. Media is a powerful tool of communication, and awareness of its benefits and limitations (rather than ignorance or resistance) will enhance its effectiveness while reducing risk for an organization.
  2. Don’t assume that the message being conveyed through the medium is the message being received by all of its recipients.  The context of the content (including how other media can alter the meaning) can easily be distorted or misread by the degree to which recipients are familiar with the medium being used and the biases and perceptions they bring.
  3. Establish a) clear communication protocols for yourself and the organization you lead and b) create an intentional strategy to explore the breadth of new emerging media.  Their absence conveys a lack of understanding and discipline, exposing your leadership and the organization’s reputation to unnecessary risks, and ignorance of opportunities.

[i] Donald A. DePalma, Business Without Borders (Massachusetts: Globa Vista Press, 2004), vii.

[ii] Rob Salkowitz, Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology, and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World From the Bottom Up (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), 81.

[iii] Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (eds.), New Media 1740-1915. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), xv.

[iv] Ibid., xvi.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Cory Doctorow. Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2008, 40.

[vii] Laura Burd Shaw. 2004. From Phantom Image to Perfect Vision. In New Media 1740-1915. eds. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree, 114. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[viii] Ibid., 131.

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