This week's post is unavoidably personal. But it also has a significant lesson for anyone who makes any kind of communications for anybody.
Saturday afternoon, I took my son to the first session of his fall Lacrosse clinic. He usually wears an old t-shirt under his pads, and for some reason, grabbed one of his favorites -- the one he got from The Spot, which is (or possibly, was) a locally-famous burger joint on the Seawall, in Galveston. His choice was poignant to me, as I had just spent most of Friday night watching live feeds from Fox, CNN, the Weather Channel, and KHOU in Houston -- trying to get as much information as I could on the damage being caused by Hurricane Ike. By the time we were ready to leave for lacrosse on Saturday afternoon, it was clear that things were looking very bad on the Island.
We moved to Northern Virgina from Galveston two years ago. We don't own anything on the Island anymore, and haven't been back since we left. But we have a lot of friends there, and a lot of memories -- and a sense of place that can only come from happily calling somewhere home for as long as we did. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, it's tough to look at the few pictures and video feeds that are trickling out of Galveston proper -- tough to listen to reporters who don't know anything about the physicality or culture of the Island. Yet, I want to see more. I want to check on places I know, to see if they're still standing -- or to see just how high the water might have gotten in our old neighborhood. The Island remains closed for the safety of those there, and those who will return once it re-opens. But also -- and this is just because I know and understand Galveston culture -- it's closed because Lyda Ann doesn't want the world to see the mess her Island is in -- until she can get at least part of it cleaned up. So the press has been mostly about Houston, which also sustained significant, albeit lesser damage, and which, as the fourth largest city in the country and the home of a quarter of US gasoline production, is a more interesting tale.
It's easy for me to understand how concerned I am, and how concerned my family is, about a place where we lived just a few years ago. We know our friends are all fine -- though many will be returning to uninhabitable houses, and all will face a tough battle to repair and rebuild. What has struck me, though, over the past couple of days, isn't that I'm up to date on Ike and the aftermath -- but that most of the people I encounter here in Alexandria barely seem to know that it happened at all. A hurricane in Texas just isn't on the radar here. Not really.
There was a local news story about spiking gas prices, and some spotty coverage of the damage in Houston. The Ravens game that was to be in Houston Monday night is postponed because of Ike. Stuff like that. But most of the people I've encountered seem only marginally aware that such a strong storm has affected millions of people. It's just another story on the news, if you happen to have caught the news. I was particularly surprised that it wasn't even mentioned in church. Usually they mention stuff like this in church.
And then it came together for me. What I'm witnessing here in Virginia isn't the evidence of particularly clueless, or callous people. It's simply human nature. You care about the stuff that affects you directly, or affects those very close to you -- whether that affect is positive or negative. For most people, "close" has a geographic connotation, but not always. In this case, I'm an example of "not always" -- Galveston is a long way from here.
The point is, people are concerned about whatever is immediate for them. For people on Galveston Island right now, that's mostly about water -- getting rid of one kind, finding another kind. For people in Alexandria today, it's the 90-plus temperature, the traffic caused by the Art Festival, the birth of a baby, the death of a relative, the upcoming election, the report due tomorrow at work, the Skins game, or any number of a bazillion things that concern individuals at any given moment -- simply because that's what concerns them at that particular moment.
Which brings me to the advertising point:
Forever -- and I mean forever, since the dawn of time in advertising -- we as creators of advertising and marketing messages have labored under the false assumption that people care what we have to say. They don't. They never have. Unless, that is, it has some useful purpose for them at the moment that they hear us say it.
The web hasn't increased this phenomenon -- it's simply made it more visible.