Weighing in on the value of connectivity and communications

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Billed as one of the “highlights” of the University of Toronto’s inaugural Festival of the Arts was the lecture by “renowned Canadian filmmaker, Atom Egoyan, delivering his second public presentation as the Dean’s Distinguished Visitor in Theatre, Film, Music, and Visual Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Science.” Egoyan, whom I’ve always found to be an articulate and original thinker (in addition to a true auteur as a filmmaker) tackled an ambitious lecture called “Monitors, Minotaurs and the Close-Up.

It was a fairly complicated thesis, exploring the concepts of barriers to communication, the quest to conquer the half-man, half beast at the centre of the labyrinth and “close-ups” of individuals to determine what they are thinking and feeling—all topics Egoyan has explored in past films. He used short clips from two of his films to illustrate the point of individuals being caught on film and/or communicating to one another through monitors (a rather artificial concept).

The most fascinating part was the more recent shift in Egoyan’s thinking (let alone more sophisticated film techniques) in regards to modern communications via computers, PDAs and cell phones. I thought his comment,

“Technology has become so light that perhaps communications has no weight at all.”

was particularly profound.

On one hand is the more obvious proposal that the availability of sophisticated equipment has made constant communication weightless and easy.

But what resonates with me more is how “light” modern-day communication has become, simply because it is so easy. Many people electronically blurt out half-formed impressions and thoughts through e-mail, blog posts, microblogging platforms (such as Twitter) and user-generated short videos, relying more on how they are thinking and feeling at moment, rather than an ongoing audit of collected, focused and nuanced research, followed by cognitive and reflective thought. On one hand technology allows us to easily “receive” so much of one another, whether they be family, friends, colleagues or virtual strangers. Yet despite new-found acquaintances with more people, around the globe, how much do we really know about what has shaped them, as the easy surface friendship and lightweight chat can preclude deeper relationship, such as one finds with fewer people, but to greater gain?

It does make me wonder whether the “lightness” of social media is the best fit for organizational public relations. If each outspoken and extroverted individual is given equal weight in conversations and decision making, how is a corporation to know who or what is indicative of a trend or a need to revise the business model and work on reputation? And who is merely an exhibitionist or malcontent, looking to wax eloquent or complain about an isolated incident or a perceived slighting in relation to his or her thoughts on an advertising campaign, product or customer service issue, and so on?

And why does each incident or relationship need to be explored publicly and online? Often issues are easily resolved, one-on-one, but social media would have each occurrence explored through a magnified lens, online, commented upon and forever documented.

Rather than being a considered a privilege, when did constant communication and opinions (favourable or not) by individuals about an organization’s practices and alliances become an entitlement? Not by all, certainly. But it would seem that for some individuals the greater, faster and easier their technological connections, the more weight, influence and persuasiveness they self-determine their opinions should hold.

I’m not buying that. Certainly social media can have a place in the pulse-taking and decision-making process, but I’m of the opinion that old-fashioned, in-person meetings, phone calls and one-to-one e-mails lead to more profitable discussions and negotiations, and that they remain equally, if not more, important.

Is it that I’m unable to give up command and control? No. It’s more a case of valuing the hands-on and personalized, over the fast, unconsidered and communal mode of communicating,

As I set out on vacation, my plan is to travel technologically light and unconnected to the greater world, instead focusing, considering and celebrating the places and people whose path will criss-cross with mine throughout the journey. What can I say, I like and welcome the occasional break to be a private public relations practitioner.

But back to the lecture, we were also privileged to view advance clips from Egoyan’s new film, Adoration (which Egoyan told us is planned for a *spring release). Possibly it’s a case where a film will lead the way to the advancement and adoption of “must-have” technology, relating to a multi-split or paned “chat” computer-screen option. (Picture the split-screen effect of The Thomas Crown Affair amplified. Or Hollywood Squares on your computer screen.) It’s akin to sitting around a table with 10 people and talking, except instead these gatherings of faces and voices takes place on one’s computer screen, each with its own spot. It’s an intriguing idea, as long as the conversations remain warm and meaty, despite the platform (or channel) being cool and light.

I welcome your thoughts and encourage any or all to start a dialogue agreeing or disagreeing with this premise…just realize I will be lightweight, unconnected and uncommunicative for a couple of weeks.

*Update: It seems that the release of Adoration will be later than anticipated, as first it will compete at Cannes.
Atom Egoyan’s ‘Adoration’ In Competition – Cannes Film Festival
Sony Classics snags rights to Egoyan’s Adoration

6 COMMENTS

  1. I am in entire agreement with you this time Judy.
    Well said.
    More or less, I implied (more than said) similar things in winding up the recent bruxelles euroblog 2008 conference on social media focussing on the issue of time and the fundamental reflexive nad listening approach to pr and how this needs to cope with the twitterness of the social media conversation.

    We have (I have…) yet to learn how to use email appropriately without creating continuos misunderstandings and caos…

    Euroblog was a great, exemplary but also very scaring experience.
    It seemed to me that the professionals who were there were more concerned about riding the market ‘movida’ surge and hype, than focussing on the consequences…and this, maybe, is why incidents are so frequent (ot is it only because we learn more about them because more individuals are involved and engaged and empowered to make them public?…probably both).

    Have a great vacation…

  2. RE: “Many people electronically blurt out half-formed impressions and thoughts through e-mail, blog posts, microblogging platforms (such as Twitter) and user-generated short videos, relying more on how they are thinking and feeling at moment, rather than an ongoing audit of collected, focused and nuanced research, followed by cognitive and reflective thought.”

    But Judy! This is how most people behave in REAL LIFE anyway!! “Emotional thinking” is a common dysfunction, and prompts people to all kinds of bad behavior: at work, in relationships, in family life, at church, in politics…

    Social media would only be special if it were somehow to avoid this basic human psychological pitfall. And if anyone ever doubted that this is a fundamental weaknesses of the human psyche, then social media and the web2.0 age has been the proverbial last straw that has proved them wrong.

    It is a technological revolution yes, but pretty conventional in its personality quirks… spreading our most common inter-personal faux pas across a wider canvass… for all the world to see.

  3. I don’t disagree with you, Martin. But don’t you think the fact that there are so many “lightweight” connection points these days that folks are *more apt* to just say whatever they are thinking, without giving the end result and impact more consideration?

    Part of it is also a generational thing, with the hyperconnectivity and sense of community experienced by today’s youth/young adults (i.e., the Millennials)–the peer group the new Egoyan film focuses on, I might add–although I see enough boomers and Gen Xers blurting out indiscreet/questionable/ill-thought-out opinions online in various platforms that I know emotional thinking (or grandstanding) isn’t limited to one generation.

    Are you prepared for your (grand)parents, kids, employers or clients to read something in public spaces? If not, don’t write it!

  4. We touched on this topic during the social media session at Eurocomm in February. Judy has hit on exactly the point that was raised there: spur-of-the-moment ill-formed thoughts become permanent, and can come back to haunt both individuals and organizations. Reference was made to the increasing tendency of recruiters to Google potential candidates. As a matter of fact, a lot of the Gen Yers are apparently taking down some of the more wild content from their social media profiles as they move into the workplace and begin to understand the impact that has on their personal image.

    The weaknesses are human, but we need to be more sensitive to the permanence of what we do in this space. It’s much easier to prove a passing idiotic, bigoted, etc. comment when it’s made in a written social medium than when it is made at a dinner party, where it would be the question of two people’s competing versions of facts.

  5. Mr. Egoyan states, “thinking and feeling at moment, rather than an ongoing audit of collected, focused and nuanced research, followed by cognitive and reflective thought.”

    Any form of technology that makes film/video projects more accessible to the artist and the viewer is a really good thing.

    Will the quality match his episode of “The Twilight Zone” for Australia. Maybe not.

    Long live the Kodak film students who son’t win but create pap for the internet! You know, you don’t have to watch it.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Rob. A couple of things.

    1. That wasn’t Atom Egoyan being quoted, it was my interpretation, of both the event and the current environment. The only direct quote I attribute is, ““Technology has become so light that perhaps communications has no weight at all.”

    2. Atom was actually very generous about recognizing his U of T film students at the event, including indicating which ones had contributed to the technology, editing or filming of Adoration. Speaking of which, the adoration seems mutual. Atom was himself very involved with the Hart House Film Club as a student at the university (I know because a good friend sat on its board). I am of the opintion that he is most appreciative of the efforts of pros, students and amateurs, alike.

    In general, Atom Egoyan is quite accessible, participating as a regular citizen in the community. I’ve sat behind his actor wife and him at TIFF screenings–general public, not industry screenings, seen him at the Art Gallery of Ontario with his son (in the activity room for children) and crossed paths with the pair of them at last year’s Nuit Blanche–also at U of T, in the University College art gallery. Ergo, I think it’s safe to conclude that he draws his inspiration from a variety of places and has regard for the talents of many (whether seasoned pro or blossoming amateur).

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