Insights into business, society, and life in general

Archive for February, 2009

The Age of Digital Rhetoric: What Would SocratesThink?

Digital rhetoric and Socrates – what in the world?

It’s the Attention Age, gang, and the challenge to be heard is formidable at best. To be heard means you’ve got to persuade people to listen. And to persuade people to listen means you’ve got to do what Socrates did best: employ the skills of rhetoric. But today’s rhetoric is not your mother’s rhetoric, or Socrates’ rhetoric, or the rhetoric you learned in high school and college. That’s right, even college, because most institutes of higher learning have not moved fast enough to equip their students with these important skills of digital rhetoric.

The thing is, the basic idea is the same: rhetoric is rhetoric is rhetoric. It’s always been important, but today it’s critical, once again – to get heard among the cacophony of noise and information on the digital superhighway.

But first, what in the world is digital rhetoric?

Digital rhetoric is writing, designing, and using the whole array of digital media to persuade users to:

  • Follow you
  • Buy from you
  • Read your article
  • Connect with you
  • Friend you
  • Vote for you
  • And whatever else you want them to do

“Back in the day,” rhetoric was straightforward. You used good writing, speaking, debating or presenting skills to be convincing to a specific audience and achieve your goals. And the products were also simple:

  • You gave dynamite speeches
  • You wrote compelling books and articles
  • You produced good commercials for television and radio
  • And so on

Back then it was all linear. The speech began and ended, just as you orchestrated. The book began on page 1, ended on page 457 and the readers read just as you wrote. The commercials aired during a TV program, gave you time to go pee, and ended when the program resumed. And so on.


Aha – today rhetoric is not so straightforward. Today you’re dealing with multi-media. Today you’re not in control of your message. Today the media isn’t linear.

Consider: the You-tube speech clip can be paused, ended, ignored, fast-forwarded, or skipped entirely. The webpage full of information has links and images and audio clips and maybe even a video link, so no two visitors are going to get the same message in the same way. Worst of all, you, my “author” friend, are not in control. And of course, it certainly isn’t linear. The commercials are links on web pages, blog pages, search results pages, and so on.

Back to Socrates: What would he say about all this? He’d say this:

  1. Figure out who your audience is and find out as much as you can about them – the narrower the better. If you claim the entire Internet as your audience, getting heard will be next to impossible.
  2. Determine EXACTLY what it is you want to accomplish. Convince your audience to believe? To buy? To learn? To do?
  3. Plan: pull all your tools together and design a message, choose the right medium, and plan the most effective networking strategy. Part of the non-linear nature of this bird is not only within the specific medium you use, but the need to network among an array of blogs, websites, and social networking tools.

My message here, my friends, is to approach your Internet design and creation activities with a thoughtful and critical mind. Don’t just do, think first. Just remember Socrates is looking over your shoulder.


Poor Writing Costs Big Bucks!

For those of us who have left English 101 behind a long time ago, it may come as a surprise to learn that poor writing is one of the biggest problems in business today. That’s right, poor writing. Studies and surveys have shown that poor writing contributes to low productivity, inferior product quality, and poor customer relations. These business issues are building to crisis proportions, so it’s time to take a serious look at this most basic, and now rampant method of communication — writing.

If you think about it, our methods of business communication have changed radically in the last ten years. “Back in the day,” most business was conducted verbally, either by telephone or in person — meetings, visits, etc. Now we communicate by keyboard: we send email, we instant message one another, and we even meet in chat rooms. Often we never set eyes upon the person on the other end of the keyboard. What this means is: we are what we write!!

Let the facts speak for themselves:

One survey (200 Fortune 1000 companies) found that managers felt 34 % of their subordinates writing was below standard and of poor quality.

An incredible $225 billion is lost by business each year because of poor reading, writing, and math skills.

71 % of surveyed executives reported that good writing is critical to business success, yet just 26 percent offer any kind of writing training.

Poorly written manuals can conceivably result in customer death or injury, possibly bankrupting a company due to liability and court costs.

A contributing cause to the Challenger accident was a series of poorly written and misunderstood memos

As you can see, there’s too much at stake to overlook poor writing as a major contributor to your business problems. When a business is represented poorly in its written communications �” poor grammar, inappropriate tone, misspelling, ineffective format, and so on �” then everything else about that business is questioned. The logic goes something like this:

“If they don’t care enough about their written communications and correspondence, then how competent is their customer service and what is the quality of their products?”

I’m sure you can relate to the fact that it’s difficult to measure the impact of poor writing on business, and this is precisely why it has been overlooked for so long. But cease your search for the elusive Holy Grail, and look instead at the quality of your and your employees’ writing. You may be amazed at what you find!

Nothing New Under the Sun — Including Technology!

Can it be true? Technology is nothing new?

I’m reading a fascinatng book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Utopianism by Fred Turner


An excellent description from a group at Stanford University:

“In the early 1960s, computers haunted the American imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organization and mechanical conformity that made the military industrial complex possible. But by the 1990s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers represented a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place.”

Turner’s book, by the way, is very readable, unlike some intellectual tom.

Do I agree with him? Yes and no. Yes, of course when it comes to the parallel between the dramatic and multi-faceted effects used in 60’s entertainment — drugs, strobes, photographs, paintings, and music designed to test stimulate human senses into new realms of perception and creativity. The techno-version is the Internet, aka websites – flashing lights, multi-tasking, hyperlinking, video, photos, music, and — you know the drill.

Where I don’t agree is that the skills required to produce the product are significantly different. In counter cuture, the creation process was still based on linearity — things happened in a sequence as designed and presented by the artists. And, for the most part, each specialty required a specialist — musicians, writers, photographers, and so on. The performance had to happen when it happened, and the audience had no choice about when to participate.

Cyberculture is a lot different. It is spatial – things occur when the user wants them to occur. The user writes the script, not the “artist.” The latter is multi-versed: with the variety of tools at hand he can paint, synchronize music, insert audio and video, and so on — basically offering the user a menu of choices to be tasted in his/her own time and way.

Not finished on this topic, promise….

An Icey Night

I can’t seem to let go of the story about the plane that crashed into that house in Clarence, NY a week ago last night. I was just watching a video of an interview with the co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw’s, family. She was just 25, and a beautiful young woman. I’ve also listened to the cockpit to tower recording, and her voice was pleasant, lilting.

I’ve always been obsessed with crashes, but why? The thing about this one that I hone in on is, did those people know? Did they know they were going to die? The out-of-control fall was for 26 seconds. Was that long enough to compute what was happening? God, I hope not, but I suspect it was.

Like Having a New Baby

This is HARD!! I’ve blogged for business for three years now, but this is scary! I typically whip off a business blog in a few minutes, while I’ve been at this for two days now! YIKES.

I think I’ll stop now while I’m ahead(?)

To be continued …

Hank Joins Us for Dindin

Hank Joins Us for Dindin