Monday, September 7, 2009

What is this?

This weekend my wife, Holly, and I and our sons, Nicholas and Alexander, visited the home of our friends, Dennis and Margaret Moran. They own Dennis Moran Design and work from their beautiful home near Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania (in Washington County near Pittsburgh).

We actually got together to exchange Christmas presents from last Christmas! Better late than never! During our visit yesterday, Dennis gave my sons rides on his tractor (and let them drive his riding mower). This excited them greatly. And, when we went back inside their home, Dennis gave my sons a tour of his design studio (Dennis is one of the premier graphic designers in America and a very talented photographer).

During the tour of his studio, my sons were fascinated by Dennis's photos (the ones he had just taken of them on the mower) and an old sword and sheath that Dennis's uncle gave him. And, they were impressed by all of the antique cameras in Dennis's collection (antique meaning they were 10-20 year old film cameras). At one point, though, Alex called to Dennis from another room and asked, "What is this?"

When Dennis walked into the room, he saw that Alex was pointing to a typewriter, a very "Old School" communication device. It gave Dennis and me a good laugh! For my sons, a world without a computer and cell phones seems impossible. Communication without them also seems impossible. And, yet, long ago (in the 1980's) people communicated pretty well with each other using typewriters.

As the means of communication change, we need to understand the basics of communication, as well as the nuances of new media. Typewriters did their jobs well and so do computers. But, ALL CAPS MEANS SHOUTING to the audience whether it shows up in an e-mail message, a blog post, or a typewritten memo. You may not intend shouting, but your audience will read it that way. So, Old School or New School, you will never communicate very effectively if you don't understand and accommodate the needs of the audience.

Dennis and I learned from eight year old Alex something we have all learned: communication tools change. But, again, we need to remind ourselves that the principles of communication remain the same forever, especially this most important fundamental: you must live in the land of the audience, regardless of the device you use to communicate. This rule will last longer than a typewriter or a computer, just like our friendships with the Morans.

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