Saturday, February 04, 2023 | Rajab 12, 1444 H
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Winning hearts and minds

It would be fascinating to learn what the Greek philosopher Aristotle thought about communication in the digital era. What could be his opinions on how rhetoric is used, particularly the persuasion paradigm?

The visit to the topic is even more important now that everyone is a media specialist or expert. People’s opinions and policies are being screamed louder all over the places. The worst-case scenario is when the messages are purposefully ambiguous. There is a lot of noise in the communication field, and no one is listening. Communication is central to all human interactions. To name a few, it is used in journalism, business, public relations, marketing, education and public administration. And this is only one reason — among many — to consider the topic: we need to take a step back and try to make sense of the future. Every message contains meaning, whether it is a handshake, a head nod, a song, gestures, or a look. We communicate even when we are silent. In the free-for-all scenario, there is an increased level of hate speech, rumours, lies and information manipulation circulating — primarily — on social media. Most of the ideas and opinions use the persuasion model. It is the core of politics, religion, health, marketing, dating and even parenting. Persuasion is one of the most important functions of communication. Indeed, “winning hearts and minds’’, as well as possibly the wallet! Persuasiveness is meant to urge or compel people to accept or not to accept something. This is a clear example of openly and skilled manipulation. The effectiveness of a communication is measured by the arousal of an audience’s emotions. Just look at many outstanding and significant speeches from the past, as well as how emotions run high when people agree or disagree with anything on social media. From where we came in communication: thousands of years back, during the “Talking Era” ranging from 180,000 BCE to 3,500 BCE, talking was the only medium of communication, aside from gestures, that humans had known. The “Manuscript Era’’, around 3,500 BCE, marked the turn from oral to written culture. During the near 5,000-year period of the “Manuscript Era,” literacy, or the ability to read and write, didn’t spread far beyond the most privileged in society. It wasn’t until the 1800s that literacy existed in the world.

The end of the “Manuscript Era” marked a shift towards a rapid increase in communication technologies. The “Print Era” from 1450 to 1850 was marked by the ability to mass-produce written texts. This 400-year period gave way to the “Audiovisual Era’’, which lasted from 1850 to 1990, and was marked by the invention of the radio, the telegraph, the telephone and the television. The “Internet Era” from 1990 until the present has introduced the most rapid and scattered new methods of communication. The spread of the Internet and the expansion of digital and personal media replaced the fundamental nature of communication — we are drawn to ourselves.

In this Digital Era, everyone with a smartphone employs Aristotle’s theory to attract followers, customers, and positive reactions such as likes or hearts — but also to manipulate information faster than ever thought possible. Individuals’ character and the use of emotions are convincingly used. In today’s corporate environment communication skills are essential in all fields — it is not merely a soft skill but a fundamental one. However, emails, texts, voice messages, or a communication reaction to events might easily be ignored. Is that rudeness? Or overwhelmed with work? Whatever the answer is, the ‘no response’ is a powerful reply. While communication technology innovation has provided society with tremendous opportunities, there is a need to recognise Aristotle’s contribution and influence on media practice, in addition to the necessity to grasp media literacy.

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