Communication and information in a post-Covid era
There is an unstoppable desire to resume ‘normal’ life, to emerge from a long torpor. So be it! But are we sure about starting over as things were before? I would like to pose the question to my world, that of communication/information: media, agencies, strategic consultants, even PR. We have been talking about it for weeks among colleagues and the concern that emerges is that there is a lack of a narrative of the future that goes beyond the logic of the emergency, there is a lack of social imagination, decoding, interpretation, accompaniment. I have spoken extensively here and there online about this worry of mine, in dozens of phone calls and seminars. A debate and a 'Manifesto of new communication' was born, which I created with some colleagues (Daniele Chieffi, Piero Pelizzaro, Andra Pillon, Luca Poma, Stefano Rolando, Gian Luca Spitella). The premise? We communicators, in view of the next phase, should ask ourselves some fundamental questions regarding perspective because, lately, our profession has become a big market research industry, as William Davies defined it in Nervous States. We have mobilized (and not always ennobled) the masses with emotions, current frameworks, opinion polls on perception. All tamed by algorithms. We have been forcefully placed in the culture of outrage, in the endless arenas that make a spectacle of debate, in the butcher’s shop of 'likes'. It would be useful to stop with the subordination of some central roles – such as ours – and to reiterate that the communication professional is not a mere executor but has the purpose of keeping relationships together, providing explanations and finding the grace to be unambiguous, clear, unadorned, honest, unmediated. Communication professionals have the opportunity to reformulate their role and pre-eminent social dimension: that of helping to understand (and interpret) reality. Do I appear to be empty and illusory? I would say no, given the role that our world has played in getting us out of illiteracy and in giving us the necessary keys to access forms of autonomy – employment, even, and therefore economic autonomy – and democratic participation. It would take too long to illustrate the good results and consequent good effects of entire generations of communicators, publicists and creatives. Compared to those generations, ours risks falling behind if we fail to take possession of agendas, vocabularies, the strategic plans of clients.
I come back to myself, to my impatience, to try to focus on a certain operativeness with 15 self-imposed rules. I also submit them to you, for a direct and frank comparison:
1. Stop the yearning. This phase must focus on restarting, on the available energies and on the creativity already present: passing from a phase of 'Melancovid' (as it was called by Liberation in March) to a proactive phase, based on the desire to start over from where we stopped.
2. Build antibodies to the amnesia to come. In this period, we have come to terms with ourselves, with our limitations and virtues. During the period of maximum possible social distance, we have discovered unequivocal gestures of solidarity, a useful medicine for the defeatist pessimism that often grips us.
3. Make use of collective intelligence. We are a social network but also a professional one, a chain of skills: from this assumption we should re-establish our industriousness to offer interpretations of conflicts, explanations of processes, public engagement.
4. No more standard products. We can no longer go back to standard-issue communication, like for talk shows. If the message is meant for persons, we need to reconsider tone of voice, words, attitudes, images, situation by situation, ear by ear, eye by eye.
5. An era with a molecular gaze is beginning. The virus has gotten us accustomed to detailed images, fragments of the situation: I would like to get used to a proximal and not a distal or maximalist approach to things.
6. Reformulate the genetic makeup of the communicator. We need CRISPR: a molecular scissors capable of modifying the DNA of communications to conceive messages in relation to the real needs or abilities of people. Create for specific goals and not for all seasons.
7. No more blind peer-to-peer communication. Avoid the disclosure of content to equivalent or equal nodes that have not been verified in terms of sources, copyright and clients, especially for the latter.
8. We need new metabolic energy, with sentient roots (like those that plants have). It means starting from the academies and universities, where research often nestles, the outpost, the nursery of intelligence. New generations are much more ready for shared research and experimentation.
9. Data is the other environment in which we live. Our identity as a person is the result of the accuracy we put into the management of our data. We need to increase our awareness of the intangible worlds we frequent and reduce the muscular strength of our online performances, less shouted and more selected.
10. Augmented Intelligence. True augmented intelligence is the professional human capital that surrounds us. The best cultural projects, the most compelling narratives, the most profitable campaigns, are the result of assiduous and continuous interdisciplinary exchange. Even between different agencies.
11. No to superhumans who save the world. No Captain Marvel, no Avenger. Everyday life has its heroes that we often do not know but who remain human in all their circumstances. The new phase starts with the narrative of 'solid jobs’ that we do not remember but which are crucial to making things work, especially in times of crisis.
12. Stop information witchcraft. Let us start with facts and data. The interpretation - to be such – must declare its intent immediately, in a unique, organized, loyal way. Above all, no preventive oratory investiture when obvious and clumsy omissions multiply.
13. Time hangs in the balance. What we have for years been calling 'free time' is an inconsistent relic. What happened should make us reflect on the fact that all our available time is not free at all but must be managed with a project and a purpose. There is no going back.
14. Festive civilization no longer stands up to comparison with reality. Cities are something else and the thousands of submerged jobs that make our communities work make up and determine a civilization that has little to do with the ephemeral experience of just partying. A party without guests and without a specific invitation simply does not exist.
15. Sacral use of silence. Speak up about it, with knowledge of the facts, distancing yourself from the art of propaganda that has often characterized the scattered screams of the pro tempore directors.
I repeat: these are some ideas to be explored but, in the daily distress of a middle-aged communicator, these are the precautions that I feel I can adopt in order not to run the risk of returning to everyday people with the same miasma as always.