By Othon Leon
Fairly known, and very much used and repeated by philosophers, mystics, storytellers, (such as Cicero, Seneca, Rudyard Kipling, Jean Piaget, Thomas Acquinas, etc.) and even business lecturers, consultants and managers, (like myself!), these 6 questions constitute the backbone of human history… and human stories. They might well be the most effective tools out there to explain and understand any given situation; that is why usually they are taught to communication and / or journalism students from week one at school, but for the same token, the way we human beings communicate is going throughout a major transformation period, in which the new social media is changing the frequency and the terminology that we use to tell others what is happening around us.
So, is it possible that the significance of such fundamental questions (who, what, when, where, why and how), could also be being modified?
To answer to that question maybe we should begin by acknowledging that (disordered) “data” is at the origin of the communication phenomenon, once that this data is organized in a logical way, “information” appears; finally, once information is transmitted and feedback is obtained, the “communication” cycle is the result. Given the characteristics of what we call today “traditional media” (telephone, newspapers, TV, radio, etc.), in which the frequency and length of messages was almost unlimited, all 6 questions were not only used, but were expected to generate an “efficient communication” cycle, however, that might not be the case of today’s new (social) media…
To begin with, currently the availability of devices (mobile equipment) and the frequency of communications, have dramatically increased, creating an overwhelming competition of information to gain the attention of receptors -to complete the communication cycle-.
On the other hand, the nature of the new platforms (twitter, Facebook, etc.), usually impose limits of space and data to users, meaning that messages must be limited to a certain length. In this context, out of the 6 questions, “maybe” 2 become more relevant (depending on each case, of course): “What” and “When”. These two questions, or rather, the answers to them, are the ones to compete for the attention of the receptor, who in turn, and based on those, should decide if the information is worth pursuing, to then answer to the other 4 questions (who, where, why and how).
After all, beyond the cliché, we should not think that because certain tools have worked in a certain way for such a long time, they will continue to do so forever… maybe because nothing stays the same forever.