Swimming against the tide

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NOTHING I write here is new or innovative but the argument must be made again and again and again.

Socrates, the father of Western philosophy was tried and executed because he gave the Greek youths a dangerous weapon, the ability to critique and question everything. Once described as the ‘Gadfly’ within the state, Socrates stung the status quo by questioning democracy and upsetting the established order. He was deemed to be too dangerous by those who benefitted from the power structures of Athens. Socrates influenced the minds of the Athenian youth and I am here thinking, he did this without any form of technology, just an academy and books. In this age, anybody can become a modern-day Socrates with a mobile phone and a social media account with a large following. The future is the internet and the internet is the future.

In a keynote speech at the international Government Communication Forum on Monday, September 6 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Minister of State for Youth Affairs, 24-year-old Shamma Al Mazrui, cautioned: “If we want to understand the youth, government bodies need to open diverse and direct communication channels with them, use their technologies to understand them, or else we will be swimming against the tide.”

Shamma’s words were sharp and rang true. I have finally found the description for those luddites who are part of the government systems that refuse to embrace modern forms of communicatio to connect with the population. Forty-two per cent of the global population is under 25 (World Bank), the world’s population is very young. According to a report by Common Sense Media, 75 per cent of teenagers currently have social media accounts and 68 per cent of that group use Facebook as their main medium.

As an obvious consequence, it is undeniably incumbent upon any entity that seeks to reach the largest possible audience to embrace technology. Troglodytes who are of the government system and say: ‘I don’t understand them fancy technology’ or ‘Stay away from the Facebook thing’, should not be in government leadership positions in this day and age. If you stay away, you leave a vacuum. That space will be filled by your detractors and other agents with shadowy agendas. Your refusal to engage through technological means is self-defeating. When news breaks, it breaks online and you have about one hour to respond. If you wait for the next day to print a response in the print medium, you would have already lost control of the message and by extension, the entire plot.

The dull black and white pages are sadly losing in the anti-intellectual age. Some millennials will tell you: ‘I am not reading anything with more than three paragraphs, if it is not a contract or some assignment for grades.’ Yet government agencies insist on resorting to long black and white scripts to communicate to the largest section of the population. In some cases of policy and legal communication, this is unavoidable but where possible, go to social media. Three lines on Twitter, a WhatsApp broadcast message, a Facebook post or an Instagram picture will get you more returns on your information investment. If this method is something that you don’t get, hire a millennial, establish a social media desk and get with the programme or be swept aside by the tide.