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The Antidote to Antipathy

Posted on 7 May 2011

It’s rare that a seven-minute video will get me to change… anything. Today, I share with you one that did. It belongs to Dave Meslin. He used it in his Ted Talk, which is below. I watch Ted Talks all the time and like all of them, but for me to write about one here, it has to be REALLY GOOD. As in, watch it now. If you can’t, my summarized highlights are below the embed.

To me, the key point of this video is that often the reason people don’t care about important issues is because these important issues are not presented in a way that makes people think they should care, or are allowed to get involved. For example, he displays this portrayal of your stereotypical city bylaw notice:

Dense legalese that no one cares about. Phone numbers are buried at the bottom. He asks, if the city really wants people to get involved, why don’t they make an ad like this:

That was the first “holy cow” moment for me. It’s so obvious, and yet I never thought of it. Obviously not many other people have, either. That’s what’s so impressive. The applause he gets for saying people not caring about these public hearings is “not antipathy, it’s intentional exclusion” is well-deserved.

The second point for me, and the one that’s actually affected change in my own habits is when he says:

“The media plays an important role in developing our relationship with political change, mainly by ignoring politics and focusing on celebrities and scandals. But even when they do talk about important political issues, they do it in a way that I feel discourages engagement. And I’ll give you an example: the Now magazine from last week — progressive, downtown weekly in Toronto. This is the cover story. It’s an article about a theater performance, and it starts with basic information about where it is, in case you actually want to go and see it after you’ve read the article — where, the time, the website. Same with this — it’s a movie review, an art review, a book review — where the reading is in case you want to go. A restaurant — you might not want to just read about it, maybe you want to go to the restaurant. So they tell you where it is, what the prices are, the address, the phone number, etc.

Then you get to their political articles. Here’s a great article about an important election race that’s happening. It talks about the candidates — written very well — but no information, no follow-up, no websites for the campaigns, no information about when the debates are, where the campaign offices are. Here’s another good article about a new campaign opposing privatization of transit without any contact information for the campaign. The message seems to be that the readers are most likely to want to eat, maybe read a book, maybe see a movie, but not be engaged in their community. And you might think this is a small thing, but I think it’s important because it sets a tone and it reinforces the dangerous idea that politics is a spectator sport.”

Yes. I have written countless scripts at CBC. Every time we have a band or an author on, I include a link to their website in case people want to learn more. But more often than not politicians, government officials, and others do not get the same treatment. This despite the fact that most if not all now have a website that I’ve used to educate myself about who they are and what they do. This is changing. I don’t know how many people will go to the website for a crown corporation or opposition MLA versus your average musician, but at least by including the information, they have that option. And more importantly, they might feel like it’s expected that they’d want to learn more.

Filed under: Canada, design, Prince George

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