Quick Takes: Earth Day is coming

(This is a Quick Takes post; very brief posts on very timely topics with more detailed discussion to follow as warranted.)

April 22nd. Earth Day. What’s it all about? Time to visit: http://ww2.earthday.net/ and while you’re at it now’s a good time to read the Earth Hour post on this blog devoted to considering the event as an example of nonverbal communication: https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/29/earth-hour-nonverbal-and-symbolic-communication/ Be sure to cast your vote while there regarding the event’s effectiveness. I’ll be reporting my observations about Earth Day’s impact after the event in a follow up post from a C&C perspective.


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President Obama’s scorecard as Communicator-in-chief

How do you determine whether you’re communicating effectively? By evaluating results. You set objectives, sometimes referred to as goals in the blogosphere, for your effort, be it a blog, a presentation, etc. and then you use some appropriate means to measure effect. Now your objectives need to be realistic and attainable, and there are short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives as well so be sure you know which you are assessing. The process of goal-setting must be carefully done. It’s easy to confuse your primary goal with secondary objectives necessary to reach the primary goal. In other words, there can be a hierarchy of goals to consider.

For example, take my recent post about Earth Hour: https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/29/earth-hour-nonverbal-and-symbolic-communication/ The sponsoring organization earthhour.org clearly has as its primary medium-term objective:  to influence the up-coming Global Climate Change Conference in  December, 2009 to move governments around the world to take action against global warming. The means which they have devised to achieve this end is to present a billion “votes for earth” evidenced by the symbolic act of turning off lights in one’s home, business, municipality, wherever. This is the secondary objective.  As another example, increasing traffic to a blog could be construed as a primary objective, but in and of itself number of hits and views is not consequential. What happens because of the increased visits to the site is what ought to be the basis for defining the primary goal. 

Goal setting deserves and will eventually receive its own attention on this blog, but for right now, I just needed to set forth some generalities before launching into an appraisal of how our new president is doing in regards to his communication efforts to date. I have raised the matter of  the administration’s developing “communications strategy” in at least two previous posts. Now might be a good time to pause and have a look at this one: https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/26/president-obama-and-communication-experimentation/  and this one as well: https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/20/president-obama-on-late-night-tv/

Come on back when your done, I’ll wait…waiting…waiting…waiting. OK, let’s assume the administration’s primary goal is to get this economy moving again. Fair assumption I think as it has been stated as “job one” about one thousand times. From a communications standpoint the means to this end is to pump confidence back into an abjectly deflated populace, ergo, enter our secondary objective.

Now enter the New York Times/CBS News Poll just released. The headline in the New York Times is: “Poll Finds New Optimism on Economy Since Inauguration”; so the combination of late night TV, virtual town halls, prime time news conferences, et al. just might be paying off.  The number of people who think the country is going in the right direction has moved from 15% in January, pre-Obama, to 39% now. The number who believe it’s going in the wrong direction dropped to 53% vs. 79% in prior polling. The percentage feeling that the economy is getting worse has gone from 54%, pre-Obama, to 34% at this point in time.

One person, in a follow up interview conducted in conjunction with the poll, said “It’s psychology more than anything else,” It’s effective communications more than anything else, and if you’re keeping score, the strategy seems to be working.

For the Complete New York Times Article on the recent poll go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/us/politics/07poll.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper


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Earth Hour: Nonverbal and Symbolic Communication

The lights went dim. The darkness fell. It was Earth Hour. Yesterday, all across the world, in 84 countries. At the Sydney Opera House in Australia. At the Eiffel Tower in France. At the Bird’s Nest Stadium in China. At the Great Pyramids in Egypt. At the Acropolis in Greece. At the Sears Tower in America. At the home of “Mr. & Mrs. Concerned-citizen-of-the-world”. The goal: 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote to be presented to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference December 7-18, 2009.

Regardless of your own perspective about global warming, Earth Hour is a major example of nonverbal and symbolic communication.

Nonverbal communication involves the transmitting of a thought or idea without the use of spoken language per se. Symbolic communication is a sub-set in which symbols and symbolic action are used.

Many will consider, and have flatly stated that they think Earth Hour is nonsense. A billion people switched off their lights as their answer

Historical footnote. Mind, Self, and Society was posthumously published in 1934. Based on the lecture notes of George Herbert Mead, really the father of social psychology, the book puts forward in his theories the ideas we today  generally refer to as “symbolic communication”.  As an interesting aside, while Mead published scholarly articles widely during his lifetime, he died in 1931 and never finished correcting the galleys to what would have been his first book. Essays in Social Pyschology was first published in 2001. So Mead’s work in essence spans much of the modern day social and communications theory time-line. The other figure I want to mention as making a contribution to all of this is the philosopher Susanne Langer (1895-1985) who conceived “symbol theory”; while she is most often associated with aesthetics,thinking about the arts, she significantly called attention to the importance of symbols.

I’m not asking here whether Earth Hour will have an effect on policy, only time will tell that. The question is simply whether Earth Hour effectively utilized symbolic communication to try to make its point “without saying a word”. If you would like to take part in this survey go to:http://www.earthhour.org/home/ to find out exactly what happened during Earth Hour, and then return and complete the survey. I’ll post results after sufficient response.


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