Publisher’s Page: Communicating today, tomorrow and beyond
After nearly a half century of publishing, this issue will be Interpreter's last.
The theme of this issue is gratitude, which seems an entirely appropriate way to end a great run. All of us at Interpreter are grateful to our readership for your loyalty and to our advertisers for your support over the years. We're grateful for the opportunities we've had to serve the church and to tell its stories. On a personal note, I am also grateful to our editor, the Rev. Kathy Noble, for her leadership and devoted efforts, as well as the many other writers and people behind the scenes that have made Interpreter an award-winning magazine.
With this issue, there is chance for reflection about what communication was like 48 years ago, how it has changed and how it remains the same. Take, for example, emojis.
An emoji, which means picture + character, is a digital image used to express an idea in electronic communication, especially text messages and social media. Shigetaka Kurita originally created them in 1999 for use on Japanese mobile phones, but their usage has skyrocketed in the past few years.
There are emojis for facial expressions, objects, animals, food, weather, sports equipment and more – 2,666 at last count, according to the Unicode Consortia, with new additions being made all the time. The latest include a hedgehog, chopsticks and a coconut.
As our interactions become increasingly digital, emojis allow for the expression of feelings without words, a kind of emotional shorthand. They add meaning that clarifies the intent of the message. Without the benefit of clues provided by tone of voice, facial expressions or body language, a digital message might easily be misunderstood.
Of course, pictorial communication is nothing new, dating back to cave drawings. Images have always been important and will continue to be. But technology has made the sharing of these images exponentially easier. Witness the rise of Instagram, which has users sharing 95 million photos and videos per day. An infographic, with its visual illustration of information and data, is said to be 30 times more likely to be read than text only. Cisco, a technology company, predicts that Internet video will account for 80 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2019.
What are the benefits of using images, like emojis? One is that they transcend language, and in an increasingly global society, anything that makes communication easier is a plus. Also, they are fast and easy to use, making typing a lot of text unnecessary, and, well, they're just plain fun. So much fun that they have spawned a movie and even a game show.
Perhaps you're curious about the most popular emoji? It turns out to be the face with tears of joy. In7 searching for that answer, I came across an article that caught my interest for an entirely different reason. At the top of the article, wedged between the title and the photo, was the notation "2 min read." I am not sure if it was meant as an enticement or a warning, but it says something about how audiences consume media today. Some readers may choose not to go further because they don't want to spend an entire two minutes.
This is one of the reasons why printed publications have declined in readership. And perhaps it is one of the reasons why emojis are on the rise, with 60 million emojis used on Facebook every day. People seek direct communication in shorter pieces. People are scrolling rather than perusing. Attention spans are shrinking. In fact, a study by Microsoft says that people's attention wanders after eight seconds. However, the benefit is that communication has become more frequent with messages that can be both targeted and personalized. With digital and social media, two-way communication can now transpire where it was not possible before.
Hence the need to continually reevaluate the ways we communicate in order to meet our audience's needs and preferences. As we say goodbye to Interpreter, we look forward to sharing inspirational stories and leadership resources in new ways through new channels. Visit us soon at umc.org, where you can also sign up for a new e-newsletter, "United Methodist Now: Inspiration for Daily Living."
Dan Krause is general secretary of United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and publisher of Interpreter.