“With iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.  So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” – Barack Obama, Hampton University Commencement, May 9, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-hampton-university-commencement

The good news for the Leader of the Free World is that he has a 12-year-old daughter (Malia) and a nine-year-old daughter (Sasha) to provide in-(White) house tech support when it comes to using iPods, Xboxes and PlayStations.

Senior public relations practitioners may not be so lucky. Which brings up an interesting question, why are so many in our profession so reluctant about and so resistant to social media, including blogging and podcasting? Deep down is there an inner Luddite that makes many of us resistant to technological change? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

The Economist www.economist.com in its latest iteration has a fascinating commentary, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” that says that distrust of new technology goes back to the days of Socrates (469 BC to 399 BC) and his fear of writing, which would “create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates

During my decade working with engineers at LSI Logic www.lsi.com, I asked them one-by-one why they chose to become technologists (as opposed to journalists and PR hacks). The answer usually went back to the family radio or television. Future senior communicators listened to and/or watched these devices. The future geeks in turn took them apart and checked out the vacuum tubes, the dials, the knobs, the wires and then tried to put them back together again…sometimes successful, sometimes not.

Certainly there are communicators who have been quick to embrace social media and digital tools with gusto. They have more than talked-the-talk, they have become evangelists about blogging, podcasting, webcasting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Ding, Dang and whatever is next.

And yet there are timid souls in our ranks (you know who you are) that our desperately clinging to and only relying on (gasp) 20th Century approaches to all PR issues. Consider that they…

● Insist on staging pre-briefings followed by actual on-site briefings with the dwindling number of business and trade reporters and editors, despite the downward trajectory of their readership and the ascension of digital media.

● Devote full-time employees to writing abstracts and contributed articles, drafting “white papers” and op-eds for submittal to publications in decline, thus producing a lower ROI with each cycle.

● Sift through the ed-cals or editorial calendars and then try to devise a pitch that somehow, someway comes reasonably close (at least passing the “giggle test”) to the journalist’s topic. In this case, who is setting the agenda: the journalist or the company?

● Write “press releases,” hold “press conferences” and even invite conventional and digital media to surf their “press” page on their websites. Gee, why don’t they exhume Johannes Gutenberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg to make a presentation of his new invention, the printing press, at the next “press” conference?

● Devise a myriad of excuses for not embracing the blogosphere, and not just the self-publishing of conversational marketing pieces that bolster brand and spread the message, but even monitoring what bloggers are actually writing about a given company or its industry.

● Demonstrate a total disinterest in preparing Wikipedia.org copy about their company, association, organization etc., either leaving a blank canvass in its place or allowing others to take a shot at depositioning their employers.

I can fully appreciate that some may take issue with my prose when it comes to exposing the inner Luddite. Having said that, there is one point that can be made with impunity: More and more publicly traded and privately held companies, trade associations, universities and colleges, non-profits and others will sooner or later spend countless hours figuring out how to make money and/or spread their influence via digital tools. They will also be increasingly interested in harnessing these same technologies to build brand and to get out the good news. This will not be the time or the place for Inner Luddites.

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