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

Human Microphones thwart heavy-handed bans

I’ve always been tempted to play with IABC‘s tagline, “Be Heard.” Do we business communicators really want to be the noise makers and talking heads? Or do we rather want to be the ‘inside voice’ of business strategy?

That’s why when I first began paying attention to the ‘Occupy” movement (OWS and its franchises  Occupy Oakland, Occupy Denver, Occupy Phoenix etc) I argued that we shouldn’t be too hasty to think of them as a fringe movement craving  just to be heard. Hard to pigeon hole, it was too easy to dismiss them because they didn’t fit the model of activist movements. I was reminded of  something innovators have reminded us from time to time. Disruptive ideas do not stem from existing templates. Marshall McLuhan put it well when he observed “I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.”

Watching OWS evolve, it is interesting to see how they are inventing a  new template for being heard. Make that being taken seriously. They may be leaderless, but have found ways to have their own media team, financial system, and trademark bids. And I don’t mean media in the way we tend to think of it -the kind that come with a lens, a ‘like’ button, or segmented followers.

Much of the media we see being used in these movements are crude hand written signs.

When OWS group figured out that since electronic speakers and microphones are banned in public places (or require special permits) they created what’s known as the ‘Human Microphone’ –basically humans, en mass, repeating something a speaker says so that the sentences get carried across vast spaces of crowds. It sounds like a messy echo, but it is richer than the echo-chamber.

They have also begun another remarkable project in amplification: they are printing their own newspaper. Ok, that’s not new media. But it’s old media in a brand new way. (The fact that it is called, provocatively, the ‘Occupy Wall Street Journal’ may be a brilliant stroke of creativity.) But what really interests me is how they could do it with no real editorial hub, no newsroom, heck, no editor! (CORRECTION: See comment from Jen Sacks, below.)

There’s a livestream, of course, and someone who amounts to a news anchor.

How will this change media? Even if you’re not directly working in the media how this movement works with the groundswell will become one of the most lasting tutorials for anyone wanting to be heard.