Speech students, remember this model (click to enlarge)…

Speech Communication model: Sender --> Message --> Receiver --> Shared Understanding (if we overcome noise!)

…espcially the wiggly stuff, the noise! Everything I expect you to do and do well in your speeches is to abotu overcoming interference and creating shared (common, same root as communication) understanding.


Freshly minted Augie communications major Andrew Brynjulson tells ThePostSD‘s Heather Mangan about his design blog, Brenni Fresh. By conducting interviews with oher deisgners, Brynjulson sees his blog as a way “to collect and distribute a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond what I have to offer” (sounds like social knowledge management to me!).

But Brenni Fresh isn’t just a contribution to society. Brynjulson sees his blog as his résumé:

It is my hope that employers are looking to hire people, not resumes. People are expressive communicators by nature, and blogs are a form of expression…. To put it bluntly, I see my blog as a way to prove to employers that I’m more than a resume, more than the sum of my past employments. It’s a matter of showing people that they are investing in you as a potential industry dynamo versus an industry drone [Andrew Brynjuson, interviewed by Heather Mangan, “Blog of the Week: Blogging for a Job,” ThePostSD.com, 2009.10.14].

As Brynjuson acknowledges, not every employer is plugged in to the online world. Some will remain stuck in tradition and conformity. You’ll still need to know how to distill your talent and experience into a nicely formatted sheet of paper or two.

However, if you’re coming from DSU, you’re probably aiming at tech-savvy employers who will spend more time Googling you than perusing the painstakingly-crafted bullet points on that cream-colored paper you send in (if they take paper apps at all). If you have your Web-wits about you, that could serve you well: your online presence can more richly and dynamically capture your talents and experience than any “fancy piece of paper.”

But catch the flipside: an online presence is a lot more content to manage than a two-page résumé. You can perhaps get by with updating that résumé once or twice a year, just when you go out looking for jobs. Maintaining an authentic online presence is an ongoing project. When your blog is out there, it’s out there all day, every day, for anyone, anywhere, subject to scrutiny and criticism in ways traditional résumés never are. Pieces of paper sit in a file folder in a drawer; your blog lays you bare in public, in context, linked to other documents and people in ways you cannot fully control.

Note also that you can’t target a blog the way you can target a résumé. You can craft each paper résumé to each employer’s unique corporate culture and demands. Your online presence is a big picture of yourself, available to everybody. Hmm… if I’m an employer, that’s one more plus I see for blogs over résumés: more authenticity.

Résumés exist because employers needed some artifact that would introduce them to a candidate for a job. Brynjulson recognizes that the Web can do the job of that piece of paper more effectively. But you have to pay attention: putting your words and images online creates a broader, more complex public persona that you must be ready to answer for at every turn.

Wired’s Clive Thompson (via Rafe Colburn) cites a study finding all this blogging, Twittering, and texting may actually be good for our writing skills. Stanford researcher Andrea Lunsford dares call it a “literacy revolution”:

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago [Clive Thompson, “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy,” Wired, 2009.08.24].

Kairos, audience… that’s what communication is all about, connecting to the community, finding and building what we have in common. Lunsford finds that student writers recognize the importance of community to communication: they don’t get enthusiastic about in-class writing because they know their class essays and term papers usually have an audience of one and serve little purpose beyond getting the grade. That sounds to me like all the more reason to move classroom writing online: always have students write for an audience beyond themselves and the teacher’s grammar pen. Always make them think about how their words will withstand public scrutiny. Always make them take public responsibility for their thoughts and language.

Hmm… maybe we should do that with speeches, too: tell kids they’re going face a potential audience of six billion viewers, and YouTube ’em!

Thompson also notes that the Internet expands our writing ability with different formats. The strict limits of Twittering and text can foster conciseness, while blogs allow writers the freedom to write grand opi on their favorite topics.

We still have work to do on the consumer side of literacy, teaching kids how to critically evaluate and synthesize sources into coherent, reliable, workable understandings. But on the producer side (and remember: those sides are merging!), I’m excited to see what literacy will look like in 20 and 50 years.