Billy Joel wrote, “The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems (Keeping the Faith, 1983).” I think back to the “good old days” and the more I ponder, the more I agree with Hicksville’s favorite son. I said in my last blog that I started my public relations career in 1983 without a word processor and no Internet or fax machine. There was a slower pace and more face-to-face communication. Yet, come to think of it, our work was quite a bit less connected. No instant messages, instant mail, instant data, instant information. Far fewer tools to get the job done as quickly, accurately and effectively as we do in 2011.
As our Week Without the Web approaches, there are many folks who still avoid much of what the web has to offer. They don’t use Facebook and smartphones, and never bank or buy things online. Some might call them Luddites, a term that draws its name from Ned Ludd. Mr. Ludd was among those whose actions led a social movement against mechanized looms in 19th century Britain, fearing they would take away jobs and change their way of life. Today’s Luddites eschew much of the computer age for many of the same reasons, and while in some cases they’re not wrong, I think their resistance is ultimately a poor choice.
So I, too, will attempt a Week Without the Web and for me, it’ll be a trip down bad memory lane. I’m thrilled by the amazing, diverse, head-spinning tools we now have at our disposal. And tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems. Your thoughts?
For our Week Without the Web, my Public Relations Campaigns classes will look at the work they’ve done and plan to do for their PR clients, and ponder how they might have done the same job three decades ago.
When I began my PR career 28 years ago this month, I didn’t have a computer on my desk. Using a pencil, I hand-wrote press releases and letters on a pad and handed them to a secretary to be typed. The secretaries in the office had the latest equipment: a Lanier word processor with a green screen and a sprocket printer. I had a Rolodex for keeping my address book and a pocket calendar for planning my appointments. When I needed to create a media contact list, I did research in a nearby library and called every media outlet I wanted to reach…or I could buy the costly Bacon’s Media Directory and get a dictionary-sized resource guide that was out-of-date the minute it was printed. If I wanted to make direct contact with reporters, I’d take a trip to the local press rooms and try to catch them for a minute if they were there and not too busy to chat. I wrote lots of letters and would get responses days later. I used a phone constantly; although I could leave a message on an answering machine, telephone tag was common and often went on for days.
Yes, the World Wide Web has changed PR–and the planet–a lot since I left college. So imagine yourself as Marty McFly in Doc Brown’s DeLoreon and prepare to go back to the past by 30 years. You’ll find the world of the public relations practitioner a strange and less immediate place; not better, and certainly different. Your thoughts?
In fact, many students complained about how plugged-in their lifestyle has become. Several shared with us that they turn off the cell phone at certain times during their day, even if they’re reluctant to do so. Some welcome the times when family “rules” prohibit the use of cell phones, computers, TVs, etc. at gatherings or dinnertime. And a few students agreed that they really don’t like being so accessible all the time, and resent when friends feel slighted if they don’t get a reply within minutes of a text message.
A handful of students said they’re actually looking forward to the Week Without the Web. They confess they may not be able to comply completely, but they’re going to, at very least, experiment. I’m thrilled and surprised there’s a recognition of the down side to the omnipresent technology. Maybe there’s still hope that we humans won’t lose our need to interact face-to face after all. Your thoughts?
As we prepare for a Week Without the Web at Hofstra, we can also celebrate how connected we are. But when the Internet becomes deadly, we need to re-think the times and places we are too connected.
I’m referring to distracted driving. A Consumer Reports study finds that 63 percent of drivers under 30 and 41 percent over 30 have used a handheld phone while driving in the previous month; one-third of the younger drivers texted while behind the wheel. “Sixteen percent of all teenage drivers involved in a fatal crash have reported to have been distracted while driving,” notes the article in CR’s April issue. More than half of us, the study says, have witnessed a dangerous situation related to a driver using a hand-held device. I know that when I’ve passed and looked at a driver who’s traveling too slow in the left lane or drifting into my lane, it’s almost always because they’re texting or talking or surfing the Internet.
OK, I’ll admit that in the past I’ve texted while driving maybe half a dozen times. As I found myself drifting into another lane or braking at the last second, I realized how stupid and careless this was. So I’ve committed to putting the cell phone down for good when I’m behind the wheel. It’s against the law and very dangerous to text while driving but it’s not stopping a lot of drivers from doing it. Wrecking your car and your life–and maybe someone else’s–is really not worth using the web for something that can wait.
When it comes to enjoying the web while we’re driving, it seems to me that we’re far too connected. The Internet has to take a back seat during our Week Without the Web — and EVERY time we get behind the wheel. Your thoughts?
Next month, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Child will be leading what it’s calling “Screen-Free Week.” This national event is designed to get parents to turn off the TV, computer and other devices and find alternative ways for their children to play and learn. There’s no denying that it’s going to be awfully hard to accomplish this, but maybe “Screen-Free Week” will heighten awareness of just how much time children spend in front of electronic screens. And the numbers are astounding; a Kaiser Family Foundation study last year revealed that 8 to 18 year olds are multitasking on cell phones, computers and televisions to the tune of almost 11 hours a day.
At Hofstra, the School of Communication is leading its own related challenge: “A Week Without the Web (WWW).” From April 4-8, students, faculty and administrators will be asked to try to go about their lives without using the Internet. We’ll be tasked with looking at the way we live in 2011 and examining just how dependent we’ve become on the constant flow of information so accessible through our computers and hand-held devices.
I’m planning to incorporate WWW into my PR classes but before I reveal what I have in mind, I’d like to put the question to my students: Could you manage to go a week–a day–or hours–without the web? How might we apply this challenge to our classroom experience for a few days in April? Your thoughts?