I admit that I often get sucked into the technophile sphere of influence, enticed by the latest tablet, cellphone, or social network. If you are a communicator, then you should naturally be interested in all of these things because they are the tools you use to communicate…but they are only the tools.
The field of Communication is so much more interesting than just the gadgets we currently use to communicate with. What seems to get lost amongst all the discussion of the latest electronics and communication platforms is the actual people we are supposed to be conversing with. Communicators are in the people business, and we should spend just as much time studying people as we do the communication tools.
So what do I mean? Here are some examples:
History: What better way to learn about the way people think and act than by looking to the past. I like to switch between the large, strategic views and the individual perspective of a situation. You get more out of a book if you understand who the author is and when the book was written. Was it in the moment of a major event? 30 years after? Was he or she an outside or an insider? The enormous amount of books to read on any given topic allows you to constantly switch perspectives in order to gain a better understanding of the way individuals think. This “selectivity, simultaneity, and the shifting of scale” by historians is talked about by John Lewis Gaddis in The Landscape of History.
Psychology: For this, I’m thinking more about the psychology of the individual. There are lots books on mass communication theories out there – how to communicate to large groups of people – but we should also be interested in how to understand and communicate with the individual. There are lots of self-help books about the relationship between Men and Women, but we should also dive into topics like negotiation, persuasion, and influence. If you are a corporate communicator and cannot effectively communicate to your boss, you are going to fail.
Culture: Think of culture beyond the local or national perspective. Granted, the United States is very diverse but it’s hard to understand the way people think, act or behave unless you have an idea of a persons cultural background. In lieu of spending large amounts of time in different areas of the world – although that is fun too – there are tons of books that can help expand ones thinking, Clifford Geertz’ The Interpretation of Culture and Richard Nisbett’s Geography of Thought are just a few.
Don’t get me wrong, I love gadgets too. They are the way we communicate in 2012, but it is not what we communicate.
Once you get beyond the medium, there is a whole other level of knowledge just waiting to be learned about individuals, small groups of people, and large groups of people in different locations with different backgrounds in different circumstances.
Matt Harding became famous for his Dancing Matt videos. He used technology and gadgets to coordinate and communicate with all the people who eventually wound up in his videos. What’s special about these videos is not the fact that he used a specific cell phone, posted the content to YouTube, or used Google Maps to pinpoint and coordinate the locations that he would be at for anyone to join him dancing.
What’s special about these videos is the communication and connections made between people.