“We are seeing two powerful shifts today. Firstly, the dictatorial power of media, religious, political or industrial/commercial elites is being challenged by the mass of society. Secondly, it is being primarily challenged with written words.”
–Gerry McGovern

For those of you who love freedom and think the written word is dead, this article will be an eye-opener…

The Power of the Written Word

© 2011 Gerry McGovern. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

The Web reflects the return to dominance of the written word.

I’m just reading a book on Lenin, having previously finished books on Marx, Stalin and Hitler. More than anything they were writers. They saw that the written word was essential if their ideas were to triumph. They saw the critical importance of controlling newspapers.

Newspapers claim to be objective sources of truth, but any reader of history knows that newspapers have been key in the acquisition and exercise of power and control. Lenin wrote forty eight articles in Pravda in May 1917 alone, according to Robert Service in his Lenin biography. “Lenin was a politician of the printed word,” Service states. “Words in print were still his revolutionary touchstone and he badgered colleagues who spent their time speaking at mass meetings instead of writing.”

If you were to ask someone who is the longest serving British prime minister, it would not be unreasonable to reply, Rupert Murdoch. His Newspaper Empire is a type of Roman Empire. His editors have files on public figures much larger than any Stasi, Cheka, FBI or MI5 files. They have reveled in their power. Until recently…(more after this brief commercial break).

The 168 year old News Of The World has printed its last copy on July 10, 2011. In its pursuit of the salacious story it tapped phones and paid bribes. Not exactly surprising. It is quite possible that the News Of The World would be happily continuing on to its 169th year were it not for social media.

“The most important fact is,” Paul Mason recently wrote on the BBC website, “not for the first time in 2011, the network has defeated the hierarchy.” He was referring to the role of social media in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Britain. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have become important counter-forces to traditional media.

What is surprising is the re-emergence of the written word as a center of power. In Lenin’s time if you wanted to reach the masses, there was only the newspaper. Since John F Kennedy outshone Richard Nixon in the 1960 TV debate, television was seen as the preeminent force in politics and life.

How do you search Google or Bing? With words. And think of blogs, texting, Twitter. Isn’t it strange that so many young and old people have embraced the archaic practice of shorthand? For that is the style of Twitter and texting.

We are seeing two powerful shifts today. Firstly, the dictatorial power of media, religious, political or industrial/commercial elites is being challenged by the mass of society. Secondly, it is being primarily challenged with written words.

There is one reason far more than any other why websites fail: They use the wrong words. They use words that are organizational; that are internal; that are focused on the needs and worldview of the organization. They try to dictate to customers in an alien language, and they righteously expect customers to learn their lingo.

Choosing the right words may seem like a trivial thing but it is much deeper than that. There is a shift in power away from organizations of all sorts and towards people. Nowhere is that more evident that in the common language of the Web. Organizations like to talk about “low fares” but the masses search for “cheap flights.”

About the Author

Gerry McGovern is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on web content management. He has appeared on BBC, CNN and CNBC television, taken part in various radio shows, and been featured in numerous print media publications. He has written 4 books. The latest one, The Stranger’s Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, was published in 2010.

Since 1996, Gerry has written New Thinking, a free weekly email newsletter focusing on best practices in managing customer-centric, task-focused websites. To subscribe, go to: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/nt-sub.htm.

For content management solutions, visit Gerry McGovern’s website at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/.

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2 Comments on Challenging the Paradigm: The Power of the Written Word

  1. This is truly a powerful thought: that our written words can influence society for ages to come. In the words of Gerry McGovern: it’s the right words that will change the world. For this reason, I’m going to pay attention to the word of the day that comes to me in my email each and every day. Words are power. I want to change the world…for the better.

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