2011 dominated by people rather than technology

It’s impossible to overstate how tumultuous a year 2011 has been.

Every year we seem to think that we have been shaken, twisted around, rudely awakened. Usually it’s about technology. But usually it’s about some life-changing technology, or a new ways of doing things. Refreshingly, this year there was a large human dimension to it, some of which I covered here on this blog.

It was as if we were looking through a camera and switching between two filters:  Pro-democracy and Anti-terrorism. But we also saw a share of media events, some even about the media!

  • The people’s revolutions in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, Libya…
  • In a surprising move, the US captured and killed of Osama Bin Laden — ten years after he declared war on the US.
  • Then there was Occupy Wall Street, a movement pooh-poohed by many but seemed to catch on, franchise-like, sprouting  arms, posters, and megaphones…
  • The shooting (and amazing recovery) of congresswoman Gabby Giffords dominated the early part of the year. At least here in Arizona.
  • The media scandal in the UK rocking Rupert Murdock’s empire.
  • The Kate and William extravaganza in the media -a.k.a. the royal wedding.
  • The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in April.
  • The passing away of Steve Jobs –perhaps slightly exaggerated as an ‘event’ (even on this blog!) But it made us consider how one man could have impacted so many.
  • Aung Su Kyi returned to the political arena, registering to run in upcoming elections

Activists know this: Posters are magnets for media coverage

Capturing a sound byte used to be a great way to thread a breaking story. News organisations such as NPR, or BBC for instance use the formula well. Some use it to balance a story, others, to tilt one in favor of a point of view it wishes to hold up.

Audio is also a great way to capture the ambiance of a particular environment. A machine grinding away on factory floor, a call to prayer from a far away minaret, children on a playground…

So why is it that the poster is suddenly making a comeback? It’s one dimensional, after all!

I think of it as a powerful tool not only because of what it says but how it is displayed. In other words, there is more contextual detail that surrounds a poster that adds to the story, even though it is a frozen moment. Two things come into play that make a poster powerful:

  • The image is at once analog (when printed) and digital (when photographed and preserved in a digital stream).
  • The message feeds a story because it tends to be connected to a human who holds it up, or a group of people in which it seems to be rooted

There is a third element – mystery. The unknown or un-clarified details take on greater significance, goading our curiosity, and our need to fill in the gaps of the larger story.

The protests in the past few weeks in Egypt  demonstrate this. From the simple pen sketches, to the large-font messages to the administration:


No face here, but the reference to another country adds a new dimension to political intrigue in the region.

Adding more context, a paper poster is just another element to counterpoint the heavy machinery around it!