If there were even an iota of doubt that the world has changed because of digital technologies, it should be erased now and forever by the Haiti earthquake. As I listened recently to an official source tell me “off the record” information, I was reading that same information on Facebook, and I received a link from a colleague about an online newspaper article containing the information. My “source” wanted to keep this “under the radar,” but he couldn’t keep it off the Internet.
Today information moves at the speed of the Internet. “Under the radar” is a quaint colloquialism. This new reality comes as disruptive and threatening to established communications patterns and traditional command and control organizations because it introduces a new set of values and new ways of perceiving.
It means the gatekeepers have lost control of the gate through which information flows. They can’t move fast enough because there are just too many cell phones and laptops in the hands of too many individuals with data packages and wireless access. There are too many gates to control. Those institutions that try will break down under the strain or become irrelevant. We will simply go elsewhere for information.
In this superheated environment, if you do not contribute to the conversation, you cannot expect to influence it, and you are irrelevant to it – even if you are an official source. The conversation will continue without you, making up the story as it moves along.
Of course, this is uncomfortable. It is certainly frustrating. And it results in a crazy mix of fact and fantasy. Yet it happens and it won’t stop. Yearn as we may for yesteryear and news anchor Walter Cronkite telling us “that’s the way it is,” those days are gone and they’re not coming back.
As I have worked with staff of United Methodist Communications during this week of earthquake coverage, I have felt like the steel ball in an old pinball machine, buffeted in every area by new information, decisions or challenges. I move through one passageway and I get slammed backward and have to adjust because a new force has been exerted. Not just the news operation, but marketing, fundraising, technology infrastructure, web utilization, graphic design, and public information are all affected by these changes.
Add to this, input from Twitter, Google and Facebook – real-time conversation, reaction and utilization – and you have a rock ’em, sock ’em communications environment that is always on and always moving. And that, as Uncle Walter used to say, is the way it is.