As the platforms available to us change, so do the conversations we have with each other.
When newspapers first became a practical, everyday economic possibility for the majority of the lettered public, the points and theses presented by editorial boards shaped our perception of reality.
We saw the world through the newsprint lens and consumed information and stories in a shape that was easily delivered via this medium: in-depths promoted by headlines, facts presented by the inch, typography that was legible at arm’s-length served up in columns of a specific width, all presented next to advertisements bought by retailers selling to a certain economic segment.
As the number of accessible communication channels have increased, so have the number of ways we can tell a story, express a concept, or connect with another human being.
As I write this, soap-box networks that act as megaphones allowing one to reach many (think: Twitter, Facebook) are being challenged by barbarians at the gate in the shape of one-to-one and one-to-few networks, like Snapchat and Kik and the numerous other primarily app-based ecosystems being popularized by teenagers and adopted by their elders at a rapid pace.
Some look at these transitions and spread their hands in helplessness. How can a person possibly keep up with so many shifts and trends? Why would anyone want to?
And the answer is: you needn’t. Not really. Not unless these mechanisms grant you new or amplified interfacing abilities.
To adopt based on trend is to buy into someone else’s idea of the right way to communicate, and that is anti-egalitarian. It would be like reverting to illuminated manuscripts for our broadcast needs for no better reason than because someone told us to. Such tomes are beautiful, certainly, and for someone and some sort of message they’re the ideal communication channel. But to force yourself to use them to keep up with trend would be ridiculous in the same way that forcing yourself to use Snapchat would be pointless for those who have no use for its features.
Most ideal is the taste-test approach to communication tools: dipping your toes into many pools, learning just enough to understand what each new contrivance can do for you, then either assimilating it into your current communication arsenal or passing on it for the moment, focusing instead on those tools which offer you practical utility.
It’s important to avoid trend in how one expresses oneself, but it’s also key to avoid communication conservatism. It’s possible that a new tool or platform could be a catalyst for massively beneficial evolution in your work and message.
Many times I’ve found that an app or social network or technology that was initially puzzling or seemingly useless to me eventually became my best option for conveying a certain idea to a certain audience.
When you encounter some new, potentially confusing means of communication, allow yourself to entertain the possibility that you’re a painter who’s just picked up a video camera for the first time. Ask yourself what you might do with this new tool, and if learning the skills required to operate it is worth the time, effort, and humility required.
A useless-seeming implement could turn out to be your best possible means of expressing something vital, so long as you’re willing to see it as such.