My boss gave me some good advice today. Don’t push so far ahead of things that it makes you irrelevant.
Very true. It’s the same wisdom we teach our journalism students. A lot of them, especially the college grads, show up with a lexicon of words and fancy literary tricks. Even if they are correctly used (that’s an “if”), a lot of times the alluded-to humor or historical references are too far above most peoples’ heads to be of any use. Students argue with their instructors all the time about how they feel journalistic style is “dumbed down” or too simple. Some even think it’s our duty as literary types to raise the bar of average literary levels.
And of course we, the ever patient instructors, nod, put our hands on their shoulders and lament the state of American reading levels. Then we insist on our original “make it simple” edits.
The same is true for social media. A lot of people in the social media sphere/universe/whatever pride themselves on getting it. They are in the know. They have the pulse of communication. And it’s terribly exciting to harness the power of changed communication–to be the harbingers of revolution and burn the status quo. But unfortunately, I can see how arrogant that can make social media proponents like myself. Moreover, as there is a push to move beyond social media, we can further confuse those struggling to keep pace. What good is poetry to a person who can’t read? Aren’t the nuances of Shakespeare lost on someone just beginning to learn English? It’s true that those who advocate social media trends, jargon and practices should take care to not push too far forward, too quickly.
We can keep counsel with ourselves–establish thinking groups and work in new areas, sure. But we should always be diligent in empowering those around us. There was a civilian gentleman who presented at the Marine’s public affairs symposium down in Hampton, Va., yesterday. He and I chatted about how surprised we were that it has taken this long to get most people on just the basic levels of social media. And, I admit, every time I run across a new group of people who laugh about being social media infants, I do have the urge to roll my eyes, get frustrated and say “Get with it, keep up!” But what good is that? What good is a steak, however well cooked (or not), to a newborn? If the crowd we social media zealots are in need more basic modules of instruction, far be it for us to see ourselves as too elite to be bothered.
Teachers learn patience. They learn to teach the same skills to new people, constantly. They shouldn’t lament the never-ending procession of 5th graders who need to learn state capitals. They shouldn’t be angered when a student needs the same special instruction that hundreds of students before him did. Likewise, those that teach social media shouldn’t be too in love with themselves that they “can’t be bothered” with teaching the basics or working with new groups on ground already covered.
Granted it is discouraging on one hand to still be mired in teaching 101 even after this long. Sometimes it does seem that the world will never get it–that we’ll spend so long continuing to argue “if” we should instead of “how” that we’ll miss the boat. But we have to temper our itch for innovation with the wisdom of restraint. When journalism students come to interview me for their assignments, they always ask for me to spell my name. Sometimes, I want to say, “Look it up. Don’t bother me with that.” But they’re just learning. We all don’t know what we don’t know. It’s unfair to come down on someone for mistakes we all made.