Shakespeare, the printing press and how we can invest humanity into online communications

Mark is one of the pioneers of using the Internet for fundraising, organizing and strategic communications. Over the past ten years, he has led online efforts on behalf of a host of organizations, including World Wildlife Fund, Amnesty International USA, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and the International Campaign for Tibet. With a background in polling, focus groups, and communications strategy, Mark led the first-ever nationwide study of socially-engaged Internet users in 1999 -- a work still viewed as a benchmark in the field.

Maybe it’s the way the Internet has evolved in the social change and non-profit space, or maybe it has always happened this way when new tools (such as moveable type, printing presses) emerge. The line between tool builders and communicators gets fuzzy. And priorities get fuzzy.

William Shakespeare probably had no idea how to run a printing press. And the printing press guy had no idea how to write a sonnet. The writers wrote, and the printers printed.

But here we are with the Internet, and the tool-makers (the coders, the open source community, the graphic designers) are deeply engaged in communications, alongside the fundraisers, professional communicators, story-tellers, etc.

Is every fundraiser a good communicator? No.

Is it possible for a coder to be a great story-teller? Of course.

But in general, the tousle over who gets to drive communications (broadly defined) has produced the following:

  • Almost universal internal organizational friction, especially between fundraising, communications and web departments.
  • A tendency to over-hype (and overinvest in) the new, new thing, to the detriment of overall communications. There is almost always more to be gained by telling a better story than there is in tweaking your twitter strategy.
  • A resulting fragmentation in communications just at the time when there is a desperate need for unity and cohesion.

Perhaps more fundamentally, while people worry that the next organization down the road has more Facebook “likers,” it seems that fewer and fewer people are investing time in improving the craft of communications.

The Internet did not change the human heart.  It did not change basic human motivations and needs.  If you can’t do it unplugged, the Internet is only going to get in your way.

Communicating well, head to head, heart to heart, is hard.  Doing it in an ice-cold medium like the Internet is extremely hard.  Are we pushing ourselves, training ourselves as writers?  As story-tellers?  Are we gauging the emotional impact of our work?

It takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a craft.  What are you in the process of mastering?

For further reading:

Linchpin

, by Seth Godin

Writing from the Inside Out

, by Dennis Palumbo

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment

, by George Burr Leonard

Reveille for Radicals

, by Saul Alinsky