25 July 2005

Intensifying IS the Message

Sandra Barron, a writer for the New York Times has a piece in today's Toronto Star in which she states, "Flirtation via text message just 2 much 2 fast :-(" She tells the story of meeting a guy in a bar, exchanging mobile numbers, and engaging in a whirlwind relationship - from initial infatuation and intrique to final dumping - within a few days. Her final reflection: "I turned off the phone, dumbfounded. How had this happened? How had we managed to speed through all the stages of an actual relationship almost solely via text message? I'd gone from butterflies to doubt to anger at his name on the screen, before we even knew each other."

Here's your answer, Sandra: It's the acceleration and intensification of communications via instantaneity. The mobile device - as well as email, weblogs and other similar electronic accelerations - intensify the sender's voice, meaning and intent. Many of us have experienced it, usually while we are still in the novice stage, "playing" with our first experiences of email. We send what we believe to be an otherwise innocuous missive, only to have it transform somehow into a missile en route to the recipient. We are surprised by the blast that ensues, usually directed back at us! Over time, we learn about intensification of both meaning and emotion, and realize that it is not (only) the sender who is sent via electronic communications, as McLuhan suggested, but the receiver who is received; that is, we receive our own contextual ground, as opposed to the one in which the message was originally created.

Now think of this applied to issues of marketing, one of the hot growth areas in the advertising and PR business. With intensification comes the risk of alienating one's potential customers and audience; what may be engaging in other media becomes enraging on a mobile device. Instantaneous communications amplifies, intensifies and accelerates. It takes what is public when delivered in other forms and makes it intimate.

I'll be participating in a round-table conversation with a number of people involved in these industries later in the week, sharing some of these, and other, thoughts. I'll let you know how it goes.

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