s a way of avoiding commencing another 4,000 word essay I’ve been skipping through a new book by Paul Ginsborg, The Politics of Everyday Life: Making Choices, Changing Lives.
Currently Professor of Contemporary European History at the University of Florence, Ginsborg comes to me with gilded academic qualifications – no fool, he.
Casting his well-read eye over current affairs, he notices with increasing alarm the gap between rich and poor (growing at an exponential rate), and the dual crises of global terrrorism and global warming. As he says,
But new elements are present in the preoccupations of today. Our world is menaced not just by nuclear destruction, but also by our constant misuse of it, and by our capacity to modify it beyond recognition or recall.
…These cumulative menaces to human existence have introduced a new relationship between fear and time. Much more so than forty years ago [here he refers to the Cold War], there is a feeling that time is running out. To the absence of time in our own lives is added the anguish of the possible absence of global time. The net result of these gathering concerns is the fostering in very many people of an uneasy combination of two sensations: those of urgency and powerlessness. We feel that something must be done before it is too late, but we have little idea of what we as individuals, or as families, or as groups of friends or as workmates can possibly do to stem the tide. We would like to connect our everyday lives and our individual actions to making the world a better place to live in – even a possible place to live in – but we do not know how (p. 7).
Ginsborg then goes into separate chapters, each looking at some of these elements and how we might, as global citizens, take back control of some aspects of our lives. He writes of families, of workplaces, and of wider social movements, one of which is the concept of ‘social capital':
For Robert Putnam, who has done more to popularise it than any other scholar, social capital ‘refers to social networks, forms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trustworthiness.’ Social capital is to be distinguished from physical capital (factories, machinery and so on), financial capital (monetary assets) and human capital (the skills and education of individuals). It is rather the networks of relations between individuals on a micro, or everyday level. The social capital of the inhabitants of London’s Bethnal Green in the 1950s was constituted by their close-knit relations of kinship and neighbourhood, and by the frequency with which they greeted each other in the street and visited each other’s homes. As with the public sphere, so social capital, too, overlaps with civil society without being identical to it. Social capital, it could be said, constitutes the preliminary resources on which civil society can be, but may not necessarily be constructed (p. 136).
Therein lies the potential of the social web, the Web2.0 for which many of us labour long into the night.
Shel gets up at 5.30am twice a week to record a podcast with Neville, for whom it should be a time of relaxing with one’s close family and friends after dinner. I hit the ‘record’ button at midnight to chat with Allan Jenkins who should still be working on client material but takes time out to talk with me. Countless other Web2.0 communicators and converts, across all of life’s inter-related disciplines, do similar.
There is no monetary reward – indeed, there is only additional cost: of time, of money for hosting fees, of inputting text onto web pages and voices onto digital ‘tape’ and its concomittant post-production editing. The rewards are purely intrinsic and arguably selfish and self-centred. There is no doubt that ‘self-branding’ is a key contributor. There is also no doubt that, like many from time immemorial have found, nothing beats seeing your own name in print, even if it is your own printing house.
Perhaps we do it because we, as the petty little individuals as we are, want to strike a ‘blow’ for Communication’s freedom. We are no army, no formalised association of invective and protest. We are, perhaps, guilty of being nothing more than nobodies.
But whatever our personal reasons, we are vanguards in a movement towards a greater freedom for communication, and potentially a longer rope by which our Googled words can hang us.
I spend long, dollar-unproductive hours in conversation with Donna PepsiCola, Andrea Weckerle, Donna Tocci, Sallie Goetsch, Trevor Cook, Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson, Constantin Basturea, Robert French, Ross Monaghan, Bryan Person, Ben Hamilton, Kami Watson, Dan York, Kare Anderson, Henriette Weber Anderson and many, many more via posts on my blogs, comments on theirs or email.
Do we talk about business communication? Mostly, yes. But we also share jokes and share each other’s lives. I am closer to Allan Jenkins and Donna P than I am my next door neighbours. I am indebted to Shel and Neville for the encouragement and support they have both given me. I am flattered by an email I received today from Nathan Reeve in Victoria who, as a business communicator new to this Web2.0 world, is devouring episodes of FIR and other comms podcasts to ‘skill up’ and garner reassurance that his ‘fighting the good fight’ for greater corporate transparency and openness will not be in vain.
For me, the late nights and the many extra hours I put into Web2.0 are worth it, every last second. Because I have made new acquaintances and friends I would have been highly unlikely ever to have made without it; I have contributed to a global conversation that has the potential to reshape how the organisations that rule our lives rule over us; I have put my money where my mouth is and put words out into the digital realm where they can be found 20 years from now and potentially humiliate me with their foolish naivety.
In a city not noted for its activism, in a city not noted for its business entrepreneurialism, in a city where ‘communication’ is a technology not a practice, in a city where clients don’t want their PR/ad agencies to suggest anything risky or ‘unproven’, in a city where 1980
s haircuts and music are still dominant cultural forces, in a city where businesses will only (hesitantly) embrace new technologies and practices once the majority of their competitors do, in a city where those entrepreneurs who do have something innovative and world-class to say or show have to move overseas or interstate because a prophet is never welcome in their home town, in a city where the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome is a cultural ‘way of life’, I wish to reach out from behind my digital notebook and talk with and learn from those who have gone before me and who have much wisdom to impart.
And the only way I see that I can do that, because I am unwilling to move from this gorgeous geographic oasis with its envious laid-back lifestyle, beautiful scenery, zero traffic jams and the best wines in the world on my doorstep, is to use Web2.0 technologies to communicate with and to my peers.
And for which technology I am extremely grateful.