(See Part 1 of this series, on Shel Israel, here.)
IPR's annual Summit on Measurement has come to Portsmouth again, and I was lucky enough to be able to sit down over a couple beers for some great conversation with Jim Macnamara. He is a presenter at the Summit this year, also a professor at the University of Technology at Sydney, has been in the measurement business for 30 years, has written about a dozen books, is hard at work on his next, and is a regular contributor to The Measurement Standard.
Before we get to that, let me remind everyone what a great conference the Summit on Measurement is. Each year, a hundred or so of the smartest and most interesting people in public relations measurement and research get together for two or three days of exchanging ideas and eating lobster and meetings and drinking and learning about the state of measurement and how to do it better. I've been to every one of these conferences, (As I vaguely recall, I was doing the promo materials for it back when Katie Paine and The Delahaye Group started it about ten years ago.) and there are new things to learn and people to meet at every one of them. Go to it next year.
Back to Jim Macnamara. We discussed social media while engaging in a very effective and enjoyable form of it: over a couple pints at the pub. He thinks a lot about communication and how people do it, and he takes the really long view of human communication and the technology we do it with. He sees humans as naturally social communicators, and the recent media we know as "social media" is only our current effort to use technology to help us communicate. He uses the term "emergent media" to refer to the various social and other new forms of media and the changes, often unforeseen and unintentional, that they bring.
To talk with Jim is to conceptualize media as a growing, changing, mutating, hybridizing family, reforming itself as new technologies become available and are adopted, colonized and appropriated. I was used to thinking about social media as The Big Deal, but after a few minutes with Jim, I realized that people have always been using some kind of social media, and our current examples are just the latest, technology-enabled examples of something that is constantly evolving.
Jim delights in pointing out that media are sometimes designed with one use in mind, yet end up being employed for another, as we humans discover how we prefer to use the technology. Take the the cell phone, for instance, which is now most often used for texting rather than voice, for which it was invented. Or the Internet itself, which began at DARPA as a military tool.
And consider his take on the the vaunted mass media. He sees it as an aberration in the development of media, as a detour in the long and continuing history of human communication. Mass media has actually been around only a century, just a blip in the thousands of years of human communication. He says the era of mass, one-way media was created by the high cost of ownership, the restrictive technology required and government regulation. Mass media distribution was unavailable to most citizens. But humans would (mostly) rather engage in two-way communication (as they have always done) and so are now embracing the many new options of social media. Emergent social media offer ways back to traditional forms of communcation, like conversation and dialogue.
Jim does not claim to know what the future holds, but is sure that the media will continue to evolve to help humans do what they have always enjoyed and needed to do: to talk amongst themselves. -- Bill Paarlberg