We’re all mini-broadcasters now.
Many of us still have a weakness for traditional sources of information such as television news, the national newspapers and even the good old-fashioned library; but if you also have any kind of online existence, you’ll have noticed how much richer the information-gathering experience is these days. For any given news story, there’ll be a discussion on the forum of like-minded people you frequent, or a contradiction by a blogger you respect, or a Facebook group flagged up by one of your friends. If you’re researching, there’s Wikipedia, of course, but everyone knows it’s not always reliable; so you’ll Google for first-hand accounts, trusted commentators, photos and background (and what fascinating detours you might make along the way!).
It really does feel as though the holy scrolls of communication have finally been seized from the tabernacles of the elite; a feat of liberation equivalent to, if not exceeding, the invention that brought the written word to the huddled masses in the first place, the printing press. There’s still a bar to entry for the poorest, of course, and the age-old problem of reliability; but for the first time, ordinary people have the power to share news and information among themselves on a large scale, and the ability to combine and correlate various sources to form conclusions and reach consensus.
Witness the furore surrounding Jan Moir’s hate-piece about Stephen Gately in the Daily Mail. Five years ago such a column might have generated a few letters of complaint to the PCC from Daily Mail readers; now anyone with an internet connection can read, and share around, the loathsomeness – better, they can voice their objections almost immediately.
More importantly, in parts of the world that do not enjoy the benefits of a free press, the tools of mass communication are a force for subversion and democracy in the hands of the people: viz. the use of Twitter and Facebook to organise and report on mass protest after the recent elections in Iran.
But with the power of one-to-many communication come other considerations.
Ten years ago, for most people the only way they could make an impact on others was through the force of their presence – personal charisma, individual style – or perhaps via an impressive CV. These days there’s your online presence to consider as well: your output, your remit, your profile. Younger people, the ‘digital natives’ who have grown up with the technology and take it for granted, are perhaps more comfortable with the hybrid personas that the combination of Facebook, blog, Twitter, Flickr, AIM, and actual meatspace interaction can produce; but we all need to realise that we are managing a broadcast brand, and work as hard at projecting the image we want online as we do offline.
This means, for example, being careful about what you post in Google-able forums if your username is your real name. It means not posting pictures of you cavorting drunk in the town fountain if colleagues or potential employers can see them on Facebook. It means taking a little time to think about your blog posts and status updates, and whether they say something about you that you wouldn’t mind being repeated.
I probably need to think through my ‘brand values’ a bit more, but this is what I’m starting with:
1. No fluff; nothing shoe- or baby-related.
2. No social network fads.
3. NO KITTENS.
It’s a serious business, this broadcasting.