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MAZI Articles

When Typing is Not Talking
Message from Denise Gray-Felder

The more we communicate the less we hear.

I’m sure that whoever first made this observation was attempting to be cute or witty. Surely she or he did not imagine a day when there would be so many information channels and ways to keep in touch with friends and family that people would have to schedule time in the day to talk to those they care about.

Well I now feel like my personal communication space –the time and place where I check in with those I work with, live with and love – is constantly being compromised. Each morning I wake to an inbox containing more than 50 new email messages (not including the ads and spam), mostly sent by earnest people who have a somewhat urgent request, need to share important information or otherwise need my attention in the wee hours of my morning. They bombard me from numerous sources: LinkedIn, Facebook, Reunion, text messaging or just plain email via my laptop or Blackberry. Each morning there is at least one invitation to join someone else’s social network. One of the last things I do before I go to sleep at night is to clean out my new messages. Yet I still awake each morning to a mailbox with little sign that such housekeeping was done. It is more certain than wrinkles or back trouble in middle age.

I am curious about why we have let this happen. Does our fascination with networking technology outweigh common sense? Have I become more efficient at work being able to type a response instead of spending hours on the telephone tracking down people or answering their questions?

I’m not sure. When I end a telephone call, the matter is generally resolved. Both parties take the time they need to explain, cajole, complain or query. I’m able to hear what the other person needs, to determine his satisfaction level from his tone of voice, or to ask more questions if needed. I can hear pain, need, humour, anger, disgust, intelligence, impatience, sarcasm --even love – through a phone call. The power of human voices telling human stories can never be undersold.

In this issue of Mazi we once again focus on the power of voice, participation and stories to catalyse and sustain social change. The emphasis is on voice and participation – both face-to-face and using communication technology such as social networking and community radio. We are especially interested in this issue on the impact of communication for social change processes on social issues.

In her interview with Jonathan Kopp, formerly a partner with SS+K (a New York-based boutique communication firm) who is currently global director of Ketchum Digital, Mazi editor Susan Mach writes about how President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign used street art, text messaging and call-in numbers to actually listen to youth in the United States. Co-managing the youth communication effort for Mr. Obama, Kopp and SS+K brought together street artists, text messaging, radio and TV advertising, and web-based technology to reach young people in order to spark a “my Barack” social movement the likes of which have never been done before in political campaigning. Fascinated by this ultimate communication impact (he did in fact, win the election and maintains extremely high approval ratings among young people) we at the Consortium are eager to learn from this experience and hope to apply such lessons to AIDS communication in the future. We will build upon such learning and include recommendations on future AIDS communication approaches – as part of our work with the aids2031 initiative.

[Jonathan Kopp serves on the communication advisory group for aids2031. The Consortium is heading the communication working group. (]

From the President Obama campaign several key lessons emerged:
Participation cannot occur without voice;
Building a movement requires innovation to get young people engaged and to keep them engaged;
It is critical to capture data and use what people tell you to form your communication approaches;
Assessing impact can be short-term as well as long-term;
Social networking technology can be an appropriate form of listening to young people and communicating effectively with youth, when managed smartly;
Virtual communication works best when married with real physical communication.;
Convergence of media, methods and technology is essential when communicating with young people; and.
Ask questions in ways that young people are comfortable responding to, and they will tell you exactly what they think.

Elsewhere in this issue, Birgitte Jallov shares insights on how citizens in three East African communities believe their local community radio stations are making an impact on the prevailing social norms and community behaviors. In each location, radio listeners point to startling evidence of social change underway: increased number of girls being sent to school, incidents of rape and abuse being reported without retribution to the victims, lower incidences of alcoholism. We are especially pleased to publish these assessments of the impact of community radio in East Africa on behalf of our friends and colleagues at EcoNews Africa.

And finally, Lourdes Caballero, who is finishing up a one-year fellowship at the Consortium following completion of her communication for development master’s programme at Ohio University, updates us on how voice and participation can be stifled with the imposition of restrictive broadcast and freedom of expression laws in Ethiopia. We are following these matters especially closely as the Consortium began a successful effort several years ago working with youth anti-AIDS clubs in Ethiopia. From that experience we witnessed firsthand what engaged, empowered, smart young people – who are free to speak their minds and engage in community-based dialogue and planning – can accomplish in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

With each of the subjects covered in this issue of Mazi, we learn clearly that harnessing the power of voice, participation and telling your own stories in your own ways can have real impact on social issues.

Such impact may occur through exclusive use of communication technology but it is unlikely. Typing can never completely replace talking, God willing.


We on the CFSC Consortium would love to be in continual dialogue with you, our readers. Please send us your opinions, story ideas, impressions, contract leads or suggestions for potential partners. Send to:

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