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.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/20/quick-takes-earth-day-is-coming/

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A 21st Century Library rivals a Starbucks

I visited a local library recently. It had been just re-opened after a major renovation that took seemingly ages to complete much to the consternation of the residents who felt inconvenienced by this disruption of a tax payer funded public service. Well,  it must have taken ages alright, because I felt like Rip Van Winkle when I stepped inside. What greeted me was a library of the new millennium.  A brief description of my surroundings on this occasion will suffice to make my point. Wireless throughout, person after person, seated at tables or very comfortable overstuffed chairs,  were clicking away at their various laptops, happy as can be.  Then, looking like a command center at NASA, I saw the rows of monitors, all in use, provided for those who came empty handed. There was the obligatory Youth and Children’s section, very inviting indeed, but in addition,  a whole separate room was designated “The Teen Room” with a life-size cut out of Captain Jack Sparrow of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame, guarding the entryway – and then I spied “The Lounge” which sported a refreshments counter – coffee anyone. The shelves were filled with audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, and yes, books.

This post is all about creating environment, this can be done in real spaces and in virtual spaces – think of a blog as a virtual space, for example. Environment, which is a cousin to climate can be thought of in this way: “constructed surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging from the large-scale civic surroundings to the personal places.” (from Wikipedia)

Now with any endeavor, you want to strive to “construct” an environment appropriate to the activity, to encourage involvement. You want to generate the “I think I’ll hang out here awhile” feeling. Each application has its optimal set of environmental elements which need to be defined and applied . These are not just trappings, they are integral to the total experience of the moment, and upon their effectiveness often rests the viewer/listener/participant decision to stay or go.

Of the many consulting projects I have engaged in over the years, I sometimes have been involved in working with restaurant franchising enterprises from concept to prospectus, and this type of venture requires the “packaging”  (see previous relevant post re. “packaging” ) of a complete  “environment” which can be duplicated for each unit to be built. I always enlisted the assistance of a particular specialist in restaurant interior design who in my opinion was one of the best. Everything was tied into a theme. Everything worked to create a certain ambience that was unique to that venue; the totality of these environmental elements quite literally became the “signature” of that franchise. Even the acoustical properties of the space were taken into account. Turns out “building in” the sound of happy chatter – the more the better – has a positive impact on diners.

Back to the library. There are many lessons to be learned from my visit to the library. Go visit one, one that you are sure is “state of the art”; observe the library patrons around you,  and see for yourself. In the meantime I recommend a visit to the DaVinci Institute web site. The Institute is a non-profit futurist think tank based in Colorado. The web site features an excellent “discussion” of the future of libraries, delving into ten key trends that portend the library of the future – a number of the trends cited have  broader implications for communications in general as well.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/07/a-21st-century-library-rivals-a-starbucks/

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“Sexting”: Is it public or private communication?

This will be a short post. I am not a legal expert, my field is communications. But the recent legal action being taken against some teenage girls, and the legal process which is moving forward in connection with the cases in question, may ultimately have an impact on the matter of what constitutes public vs. private communication in this new communications age. The facts  are these: In New Jersey, a 14 year old girl has been accused of child pornography after posting explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com; the girl supposedly posted the photos because she wanted her boyfriend to see them. In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child pornography charges against three teenage girls who are said to have taken sexually suggestive cellphone pictures of themselves which showed up on their classmates’ cellphones.  “Sexting” by the way is the term used for such activity when done by cellphone.

Technology has in some ways made the “wall” between what is public and what is private much more porous, it’s more like a curtain now, waving in the breeze. But technology isn’t the culprit here, perhaps it’s more a facilitator. Years ago, long before my time, when the telephone was really still in its infancy, there were party lines, shared by a number of subscribers, such that one’s conversation could be overheard by others, who “inadvertently” might listen in. There is some comparability between today and yesterday in this.

The cases noted probably don’t hinge at all on the public/private issue, but rather matters pertaining to legal definitions of “knowingly” committing a crime, and the minor status of the “perpetrators”.

On Monday, a federal judge blocked the prosecutor in the Pennsylvania case I have cited from filing charges against the girls involved. The American Civil Liberties Union sought the temporary restraining order on behalf of the girls. The prosecutor said he would consider seeking an appeal. This case and others like it should be followed closely; these  legal uncharted waters may have ramifications, including first amendment ramifications,  for us all.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/31/sexting-is-it-public-or-private-communication/

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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.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/29/earth-hour-nonverbal-and-symbolic-communication/

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