Words as Communication review

9 February 2012
Reading Time
3 minute read

Last Thursday James Bridle, We all Need Words, and Paul Lewis set the bar very high with an engaging evening of talks tackling varying forms of communication. Cheered by beers, we sat back within the comfy confines of the Ultralounge in Selfridges – recently transformed into an Aladdin’s Cave of bookish delights – to discover more about journalism, branding and publishing.

James Bridle’s forecasting talk was one of the highlights at In Progress last December, so we were keen to have him back to talk in more depth about language, literature, technology and “the space where they come into contact with each other.”

He discussed the forward-thinking writing of William Gibson which predicted hyperspace and saw beyond space-time across the “network,” the emergent literary form of liveblogs, the niche realm of Harry Potter slash fiction (careful if you want to Google it!), and online piracy where literature becomes edited, adapted and transformed into new forms. 

It started to make our heads collectively spin when Bridle got on to systems that blur the boundaries between man and machine, like the automated, active intelligences he’d dubbed “algorithmic coke head city boys, keeping the stock market ticking over. He ended his talk with a look at his brilliant a ship adrift project, leaving us a bit envious of his many talents.

Next up was Rob Mitchell, for We All Need Words, outlining their mission to stop brand slop. Put simply, this means avoiding “fluffy language”, and the brand speak which they find unnecessarily convoluted. The examples of big companies’ complex marketing diagrams (we’re not naming names) which over-intellectualise their values and processes, brought groans of acknowledgment from the audience. 

Rob admits that the challenge they have set themselves of eradicating traditional (nonsensical) brand “speak” is difficult because its so entrenched in the culture of the industry.

Rather handily for all of us, they presented three simples rules for (copy)writers to avoid repeating bad writing habits – something which they try and instill in all their clients and projects:

Say what you do simply
Keep to the point
Have a point of view

The Guardian journalist Paul Lewis not only boasts some impressive credentials (Cambridge, Harvard) but has a not-to-be scorned at 46,000+ Twitter following, mainly due to his high-profile coverage of last summer’s riots. He rounded off the evening explaining how Twitter has revolutionised journalism. 

Historically journalists had their work filtered and edited but Tweeting allows direct communication and “pure reporting.”

Primarily using the example of the riots, Paul showed how he harnessed Twitter as a valuable resource for finding out news and information as events unfolded in real time. It transformed the language he used and way he communicated with his audience; he had to ask questions directly and transparently within the 140 character limitation, embracing new linguistic codes. His “readers” were able to be “active collaborators not passive consumers of news” – helping him uncover stories and evidence trails.

One of the most interesting points was defining the role of journalists now as curators; they need to sort through all the chaos and surplus of info, in order to pick out verifiable, well-sourced facts. He admits that we’re now entering new territory with the possibility of Twitter introducing censorship, but Paul believes if this happens, people will adapt and react by moving to new non-hierarchical technologies.

Having feasted our eyes on the colourful book-lined walls and listened to the cerebrals musings of James Bridle, the frank guidance of We All Need Words, and the expert insights of Paul Lewis, we were left well-sated. 

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Maya Davies

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