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Help a non-geek catch up

Well, the title says it all, really, but it has taken me five months to write this. Correction: to get this published.

This was the strongest message that I heard at Reboot 11 back in June. It came from Euan Semple when he opened the second day with his Big Picture talk. As I told Euan afterward, it was a message that came from my heart.

Euan assumed the audience was in the know – that we “got” social media, technology, and all the newfangled things that probably categorized all the attendees as geeks. With all the gadgets being flashed at reboot11 or the gentle glowing of white, partially bitten apple silhouettes on our laptops, the audience would be hard pressed to say that they didn’t know about the latest technology. It was fair of Euan to assume that we were tech savvy, otherwise we wouldn’t be at a reboot conference. It was because we had some knowledge that he made his plea to us – and it was a plea – to help non-geeks catch up.

A voice from the crowd

Euan Semple began his big picture while he was in the audience and not on stage. This was to illustrate his frustration about the implications of standing on a stage. You end up with an inevitable leadership role (and BTW it’s mostly white males who are up there.) His breaking away from this “rule” disconcerts people. Maybe not the reboot attendees, although many were craning their necks to see where the voice was coming from.

Ever since this talk in June, I have been very conscious of the placement of the speaker and the audience at any event I have attended. Euan was spot on with his idea. However, we still have a way to go before the speakers get off the stage and speak from within the group.

We, the speakers, must learn to give the reins to the audience, but always with care, guidance, support, and humility. As Euan pointed out, activists have to act differently if they are to be successful activists. They can’t stand on the stage anymore.

We also have a way to go before the audience understands that their input, effort, and participation is wanted. We, the audience, have been so trained to pay attention to the leader up on the stage that we don’t recognize or understand when the reins are put in our hands.

Finding the non-geeks

A year or so ago, I was told that 42% of Danish office workers were computer illiterates (apologies that I don’t have the source). I have personally experienced people who didn’t know what a browser was, who couldn’t attach a file to an email, or who didn’t comprehend a slew of basic computer features. Euan gave us a few examples of what he meant by non-geeks, such as a person who was very uncomfortable with open discussions (within) a company about corporate topics. According to a traditional stereotype for many large companies, such matters would never be discussed so openly. You have your hierarchy, you have your chain of command … and so on.

The so-called masses have begun to embrace new technology and join in on the fun (or get it shoved down their throats); Euan is concerned how this will affect behaviors. You see, this isn’t about technology at all. It is about all the cultural baggage behind it! That, too, is part of the story. Euan finds it staggering that people don’t know how to work out how to do the right thing. There is far more going on than just changing the physical, tangible systems. The “old ways” are falling apart under their own weight. The corporate way of viewing the world is changing. The risk is that we don’t have a transition form to move from here to there – from “what we are comfortable with” to “the unknown”. And things are falling apart faster than we can replace them.

Change requires subtle processes. The one-word theme of the reboot conferences allow us to make our sense of things. This year it was action. Euan’s action message to us is …

Help a non-geek to catch up!

So is Stowe Boyd more awesome than Euan Semple? (That's David 'Cluetrain Manifesto' Weinberger talking to the hand.)
So is Stowe Boyd more awesome than Euan Semple? (That's David 'Cluetrain Manifesto' Weinberger talking to the hand.)


  1. Margaret
    Margaret 8 December 2009

    The Atlanta STC Chapter has an annual spring “Currents” (in Communication) conference (except when we host the STC Summit). We’re trying to target other communicators outside STC itself this year. I think the “Help a non-Geek catch up!” is is the concept that we need to emphasize in promoting it if we want to reach a wider audience. The 2010 subtitle is “Everyone communicates — Navigating the mutiple currents in today’s new media.” Thanks for the idea. Even if it took you a long time to write this, it came along when I could use it.

  2. Karen
    Karen 8 December 2009

    That’s good news, Margaret. The subtitle of the conference sounds excellent, and I am tickled pink that I could share these thoughts just when you needed them! I strongly believe in the idea of expanding outside our group for all sorts of reasons. I wish you all the best of luck with your conference.

  3. […] these speakers over the coming days and weeks. My first blog posts from Reboot11 were from Day 2 (Euan Semple and Niels Hartvig). Who says Day 1 should be written up before Day […]

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