Community building in the emerging oral culture

Everyone seems to be talking about building and managing community these days. But what does it really mean? I think some of the answers lie in awareness of what culture is and how it works.

We used to be a print and language based culture. Things were only deemed to be “official” or legally or socially “real” if someone with authority said them or wrote them down. This is changing.

Social media has opened up access to the seal of approval. Authority is still important, but the idea of a cloistered elite holding authority is in serious decline. A quick look at the last few iterations of the Edelman Trust Barometer for Canada shows that trust in experts (except for university professors, funny enough <phew!>) is declining whereas trust in “someone like me” is on the rise or stable.

What this says to me is that McLuhan’s idea that electronic devices would “re-tribalize” society was accurate:

I would alter this slightly. I prefer Harold Innis’s idea of “oral culture.” In fact, I think we are very much returning to an oral culture. That means that to build or manage communities, particularly online communities, we need to draw our inspiration from the rules and norms that govern interpersonal communication. That means changing our thinking as professional communicators from a comfortable “broadcasting” mentality to a more challenging and engaged “dialogical” mentality.

A fascinating and exciting challenge, if I ever saw one.

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