Distracted Walking…Redux?

When talking about the practice of PR and “new media” it’s often helpful to remember that what’s old often is new again.  In that light, this comment is triggered by a story out of Australia earlier this month.

The Age out of Melbourne on 9/3/10 reported on increased pedestrian deaths, pointing to the “iPod zombie trance” as the cause of increased accidents in Europe, US and down under. Add to that this 1/16/10 report by The New York Times on an Ohio State University study on distracted walking accidents that were chiefly attributed to mobile phones. Not to be callous, but I can remember similar stories in New York newspapers thirty years ago.  That’s when the first wave of portable distraction, Sony’s original Walkman, overwhelmed pedestrians around the world.  It’s hard to say whether phone calls or music are a greater risk. (Mobile conversation places greater demands on attention than listening to music, but higher volume audio will drown out your environment.)  In any case, three decades of progress have not changed the basic nature of the problem.

How does this relate to the practice of public relations? Think about instant messaging and its social network cousin, tweeting.  In my first job after college, I was trained in the art of writing effective telex messages.  With telex (what the telegraph morphed into) there’s a premium on brevity to keep cost of transmission low while maintaining clarity to get your message across.  Sound familiar?  As stated above, what’s old is often new again.  And by the way, what’s old is still around; the ScribD article noted here states that today’s telex network has 1.7 million customers in 200 countries.  I wonder how many people will be tweeting in 50 years?