20 March 2012

If mass conveyance of messages is unclear or late, then one is likely to get the wrong message and make the wrong decision.

I WAS at the airport the other day waiting for a flight. As always, I kept my ear out for announcements about boarding times and was surprised to find the public announcement system faint and unclear.

I had thought there is no longer any such thing as less than crystal clear announcements at airports so that passengers can never find excuses for being late at the gate.

Worse, in some of the airline lounges, there are no announcements at all and you have to rely on your own watch to ensure you get to your gate on time.

Which led me to think of how important the mass conveyance of messages is. If they are unclear or late, then you are likely to get the wrong message and make the wrong decision next.

If the announcement about gate changes is too soft or too late, then you’re likely to find lots of very stressed people rushing from one gate to another, hoping not to miss their flights.

I suppose those who work the airport PA systems hardly ever make the wrong announcements. And I must say that those at our airports are usually clear in their pronunciation so you get their messages quickly and concisely.

In some countries, however, the accents can be confusing but luckily there are always alternative ways of checking flight information.

I do wish all public announcements had the clarity of airport announcements.

Unfortunately, other forms of mass announcements tend to be unclear, and sometimes even misleading. And unlike airport announcers, sometimes the lack of clarity is actually deliberate.

Of late, public announcements in this country seem to be particularly prone to obfuscation. If one only relied on them, then one is likely to get a very skewed view of the world.

Most recently, there was a video on an African warlord that went viral all over the world. It called on everyone who sees it to not just pass it along but to donate to help get rid of the warlord. This is the modern form of the PA system, the Internet video.

But almost as soon as it gained popularity, people started writing articles, i.e. other forms of public announcements, that gave a more nuanced analysis of the issue involving the warlord and questioning whether the aims of the organisation behind the video were truly honourable or, at best, somewhat naive.

Whichever way anyone felt about the whole campaign, the availability of these alternative perspectives allowed us to hopefully make a more intelligent assessment on whether we would support the cause or not.

Being able to assess leaves the power to decide in our hands.

The Internet, not being controlled by anyone, is a many-headed PA system. It can convince you of one argument or another, or it can leave you confused.

But it does allow power to remain in the person who uses the Internet to decide one way or the other.