I’ve come across a depressing number of posts, blogs and e-newsletter articles lately on what we communicators are doing wrong. What we’re doing wrong with social media. What we’re doing wrong in the way we label website links. And I have only myself to blame for writing here about all the things that have gone wrong in the first decade of this century.
Maybe it’s time to celebrate what we’re doing right for a change. I’m starting off with the following six communication practices that seem to be generating positive results–and I invite you to comment on other ways that you feel communications are working especially well these days.
1. Facebook is allowing families and friends to communicate in ways not previously possible. I know this from personal experience. My dad, who recently passed away at 93, had been in a long-term care facility 600 miles from my home for two years. His hearing had deteriorated to the point where we could no longer talk by phone. He never picked up on the fine points of e-mail. But the facility created a Facebook page for all its residents, and finally I could write to Dad and show him photos of his year-old grandson. Today, my wife communicates with her sisters in Alaska and Chicago via Facebook, as well as with her grandchildren. It’s a tool we’ve long needed to re-stimulate communication among family members, lost school buddies and colleagues at work.
2. Mobile phones have changed lives and societies by making communications universal. In some parts of the world, people with little else are holding cell phones to their ears, because their phone is their link to the world. In more prosperous environments, like the U.S., older generations take satisfaction in the having a phone in their pocket or purse to summon help in an emergency. Middle-agers have cut the cords on their landlines and rely solely on mobile phones to keep them connected to business contacts and family. Youngsters are writing and creating again, if only 140 characters at a time. Texting may be a corruption of traditional language, but its creative accommodation of limited space and time and its transfer of multimedia images are transforming our kids into resourceful communicators.
3. For all the complaints that “nothing is on” any of the 175 channels of cable or satellite programming on our TV sets, video communication has never been better. Cable news networks are thriving, the variety of political and social opinions is reminiscent of the heyday of newspaper columnists who once shaped attitudes and actions in print. Online video rapidly is becoming a standard element of websites and the preferred means to communicate all visual activity. “YouTube” has become a verb, meaning to post video that will enlighten, entertain and persuade.
4. Far from alienating us from each other, instant messaging and related methods of communications have us talking with each other at a pace never before approached. While IM has been around for a long time, companies now are adopting internal IM and unified communications platforms that allow instant interchange among employees and between staff and clients, even converting chats to videoconferences and/or phone calls with a single click. Information workers have never had access to so many means of communication and have never demonstrated so much communications-driven knowledge as they do today.
5. Digital communications have made America a truly participatory democracy for the first time. Only in the past few years has virtually every citizen had the technology available to communicate directly with government leaders, issue-focused organizations, journalists, analysts, educators and citizens of other nations to rally support or brainstorm ideas. Today we may be a republic by structure, but we are a de facto democracy, thanks to all the means and scope of communications we have available.
6. Schools and universities are able to reach out beyond their campus boundaries to communicate with students one-to-one and virtually face-to-face. Online universities and lectures, collaborative online education ventures and electronic connectivity that allows teachers to download assignments while pupils upload homework and tests are enabling educators to communicate faster, more effectively and more widely than traditional means have allowed.
What do you think we are doing right with communications, and how have you been impacted positively by the evolution of digital connections? I’m eager to hear your story.