First posted Wednesday, April 27, 2016
I arrived home from work yesterday to find my doormat buried under a selection of leaflets from various political parties looking to secure my vote in the Welsh Assembly Elections next week. Lots of glossy stuff, lots of words, promises, talk of what’s been achieved and what will be achieved and so on. I skimmed through them rather half-heartedly, then deposited the whole lot in the recycling bin. I will however be voting next week, although I’m not sure I’ve made my mind up yet as to who will be getting my vote, but that’s not particularly relevant here anyway. Later on in the evening I watched the concluding part of a drama series that for once I’ve watched all the way through, followed by the news.
All of these things, the leaflets, the drama series, the news, contain hundreds if not thousands of words being directed towards me. It could be said they are all ‘talking’ to me, although given the one sided aspect of all the interactions it’s probably more appropriate to say they are all talking ‘at’ me. Tone counts for a lot and influences how engaged in the conversation I become – the leaflets, with all their colours, images and glossy finishes, briefly caught my interest but don’t necessarily contain enough relevant content to make me read on or return to them, or make an informed decision. To be fair to those producing them however trying to capture the attention of broad range of people within the Welsh population via one means isn’t ever going to be easy. The drama series held my attention more – over the course of it I’ve started to ‘know’ the characters, take an interest in them if not necessarily like some of them, and I wanted to know how the story would pan out. The characters themselves did a lot of talking, sometimes listening to what others were saying, and at other times, very clearly not listening. The key character of the series did very little talking, at times also blocking off listening to those around him, and faced many issues with understanding the world whilst members of his family also struggled to understand him and how he interacts with the wider world. Throughout the series words led to arguments, sometimes reconciliations, both led to actions of some kind, and at times possibly a move towards greater understanding. As a brief aside I did find the ending a little disappointing but still worth watching nonetheless.
The final round of being talked to/at came via the news, which understandably led with extensive coverage of the verdicts returned by the jury of the Hillsborough disaster inquest. Personally I found the style of reporting at times to be verging towards ‘reality tv narration’ in style, over dramatised and sensationalist and as such rather uncomfortable to watch. Other news stories included the junior doctors strike in England, BHS and Austin Reed filing for administration and in the Welsh news reference to the Prime Minister visiting Port Talbot to discuss the issues currently facing the workforce there. It’s made me pause and think about how we communicate important information, and the way in which media of all types influences what we hear, see, know and understand and any actions we may take as a result.
It feels (to me at least) at times as though an assumption has been made that a significant percentage of the target audience (i.e. the general population) are below average intelligence, and or will follow one version of a story over another based on who is telling it and how. Dumbing down is a term often bandied about, and I am beginning to wonder whether it’s now become accepted that information should be presented in simplistic terms, with lots of bright colours, annoying jingles and ‘celebrity’ endorsements in order to be palatable to the masses. Communication is an essential part of our world, and takes many forms, yet it seems that increasingly often the message gets lost in amongst the noise we generate constantly talking (and yes, I am aware that this post is another stream of words and noise adding to the hubbub). Being able to understand the issues, understand the facts, distinguish them from opinion, discuss options, make a decision and then take any required action is essential to supporting personal, professional, community, national and global growth and development. Why then is there so much talking, but seemingly less listening, so much acting, but less understanding? Perhaps more importantly, how can we ensure that communication, and the sharing of information, is effective and not just talking?