Thoughts from a small island

16 Mar

EuroblogThe title of this post pays tribute, of course, to Bill Bryson. The English Language was one striking theme of Euroblog 2008, and I recommend Bryson’s biography of the language, Mother Tongue.

Everyone in Brussels is trilingual; that’s before they learn English, and most Belgians seem to manage that too. The attendees were from all over Europe but also from the US, thanks largely to the involvement of Edelman, so the common language was English.

This led to some ‘lost in translation’ issues. Since ‘conversation’ and ‘collaboration’ are two key themes in social media, a point well made by Steve Rubel, then there’s a need for a common language and shared culture if we’re to make a start.

I presented on a topic I called ‘teaching ms txt’ (the lowercase was deliberate). But our panel chair introduced the topic as ‘Teaching MS Text’, which would be a different thing (or a bad idea for a new Microsoft product.) I should have known better – or have listened more closely to my Russian-, Norwegian- and English-speaking co-presenter Helena (in photo above).

Another lesson is the imbalance in information sources depending on your culture and language. Bruno Amaral seemed to know all about me, but I was learning about him for the first time since I don’t speak Portuguese. I’m sure we’ll hear much more from him in future, not least because his supervisor is David Phillips.

Ansgar Zerfass is a well-known academic thought leader in the German-speaking world, but it took a Master’s student from Berlin to cite him in her (English language) dissertation for me to become aware of his work.

My small island theme relates to certain gulfs that need bridging. There’s the obvious practitioner-academic divide. Where am I on this? Some small island in the mid Atlantic – the Azores perhaps, Bruno? But it can be bridged. There are the practitioner-academics like Tony Muzi Falconi. Or the practitioners who are more thoughtful and more truly academic than a library of scholars, like Neville Hobson (an Englishman who has spend more years outside our small island and who has a global following thanks to his blogging and podcasting – a truly open university.)

Then there’s the open-closed issue, referred to again by Steve Rubel and at the heart of the debates about Wikipedia and anonymous blogging.

And never forget there’s a large world outside the small PR island. What can this teach us? The intellectually impressive (and charming, too) David Weinberger had raised the question of authenticity on day one. Yet it was only on day three that Italian philosopher Giampaolo Azzoni gave us a definition of authentic communications.

Philip Young, the impresario behind the event, had invited psychologist David Jennings having read his book about digital discovery. Jennings took his examples from nature and introduced a professional level of presentation skills to the conference. Word-of-mouth specialist Martin Oetting demonstrated the powerful storytelling skills characteristic of his former career in advertising.

Euroblog was a misnomer: this event had more than anything been Eurotwitter. First, someone spoke from the panel; then discussion was opened to the audience; then someone would read out a contribution from the ether, received in real-time response to the proceedings. All this twittering and all these tweets made for a restless audience, but that tallied with my mention of the need for short attention span communications. (Sorry, I’ve broken my own rule and gone on too long again.)

There was so much more, but by the end I could only smile in agreement when Jere Sullivan of Edelman Brussels brought proceedings to an end with a lighhearted side-swipe at the academic search for a theory of relativity for public relations. The world had moved on, continents had continued to shift imperceptibly – and there were still clients to service and families to talk to (and, no, Twitter doesn’t count).

2 Responses to “Thoughts from a small island”

  1. Bruno Amaral 17/03/2008 at 11:24 pm #

    I fully agree with the imbalance of information. I felt it too.
    It is hard for others to relate to a blog written in a foreign language, even if it’s in regards to their field of work.
    Euroblog was a great way to reach out and share thoughts and ideas.But as a bridge, it can only do so much.
    But it is a very good start. And it made me ponder if I shouldn’t blog a bit in English. I’m still working out the details on how that will happen.
    All things considered, Euroblog was an amazing experience. And I hope we have more opportunities like that to share ideias.

  2. mediations 18/03/2008 at 11:03 am #

    EuroBlog: Twitter vs Reflection

    EuroBlog has come and gone. And it is the gone that I am thinking about… Three packed days, old friends and new faces, some fascinating presentations and many stimulating conversations. As expected, almost every element of the Brussels Symposium high…

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