Substitute teaching took me the automotive technology classroom yesterday, where I encountered an article in Fender Bender with a frightening implication for English class and public discourse.
Ohio body shop owner and consultant Kevin Rains advises his fellow collision repair specialists to adapt their social media content to the “Immediacy Perspective,” the idea that online readers want text and media that’s happening right now:
I believe the answer lies in what people, especially younger people, want and that is authenticity. They don’t want pre-packaged sales propaganda popping up in their social media feeds. They want raw content that is unfiltered and in the moment. Gaining visibility for your shop means understanding and embracing this trend and adjusting your content strategy accordingly [Kevin Rains, “Market in the Moment,” Fender Bender, April 2016].
How does the body shop owner turned online marketing wizard (and success in Internet America means being both, right?) appeal to this equation of authenticity and immediacy?
Hopping on this trend on any platform requires that you don’t labor over your content. Just get something out there and see how it lands. The days of pre-scheduled or retrospective content are going away. It’s time to be in the moment and the moments are messy. When you think “I should capture this picture or video to post later on Facebook,” stop. Take the picture or video and post it immediately. Use your phone and just get it posted. Remember: It’s not perfection that is most interesting. It’s your perspective in the moment that people want to see [Rains, April 2016].
My fellow English teachers dedicate themselves to the proposition that every published work should result from contemplation, revision, and proofreading. We teach craftsmanship in writing.
Rains is telling body shop owners that they should make first contact with potential customers and conduct ongoing online outreach like a brainstorming journal exercise.
I will admit to adopting that Immediacy Perspective myself in blogging. I don’t rough-draft my blog posts. I revise as I go, paragraph-by-paragraph. I almost never set a blog post aside, let it stew, and return to it with fresh eyes the next day. Once I start typing, I’m in the chair until I hit Publish. Besides, here in the blog world, you usually don’t want to wait a day or two for coverage. (See? Rains is right: we want Breaking!!! news, blogging and Tweeting as it happens.)
The Immediacy Perspective also affects my approach to the comment section. When I began blogging in 2005, I treated typos and grammatical errors as voting issues, as indictments of commenters’ arguments. I still do that, especially when ignorant xenophobes attack immigrants for not using good English but misspell their own statements. But I frequently overlook language errors in the comment section as predictable and tolerable products of fat fingers, tiny keypads, and your desire for immediacy in the conversation.
The Immediacy perspective sounds a lot like the Trump campaign, where “unfiltered” is the new way to say “shameless.” Shame is a good thing. We should have a little fear that ill-considered statements could reflect poorly on us. We should worry that, while throwing lots of electronic spaghetti on our public walls may get one or two strands to stick, it may also make an unflattering mess. As candidates, bloggers, business owners, and teachers, we should all take a moment to think, “Do I really want to say this, and say it this way?” We should not be able to shrug off our public errors by saying, “Hey, I’m being unfiltered! I’m being authentic!” We all need some filter (boundaries? mental health?), and we have to own what we say. Unfiltered content may make us look authentic, but shoddy content makes us look authentically shoddy.
We don’t want our auto body specialists to take two whacks at our dented fenders and say “There you go! Ready to roll!” We expect craftsmanship—an attentive study of our cars’ problems; careful repair work; and a patient review to make sure everything is fixed. Likewise with politics: we don’t really want some loudmouth shouting “Build a wall!” running the country. We want leaders who think about problems, study, seek expert advice, and then present solid plans that will really work. (Again, building a wall will not work… right, Erich Honecker?)
Maybe my next substitute teaching call will land me in an English class. I can talk more about the competing needs for immediate authenticity and craftsmanship. I can tell my students that the real goal in writing, body work, and politics is to be an authentic craftsman, to practice so much that you can produce quality work every time you pick up the pen, the spray gun, or the microphone.