01 August 2015

Cause and Possibility

We're told to think big. We have a lot of practice thinking about now. However, we need to work on thinking long--as in long-term. DamNation, a documentary about dams, shows us how and gives us a sense of what is possible when we do. Check out the trailer for the film below:

Many people who study communication or engage in communication as a profession are interested in effects. They want to know what effect a piece of communication has caused or will cause. Such an approach to communication yields a lot of great information, particularly about the now and the short-term. The problem is that it tends to miss some of the bigger, long-term picture. Environmental advocates often despair over a campaign not generating immediate results, yet failing to produce an immediate effect does not mean an act of communication cannot have an impact. That's because not all reactions are produced right away. Sometimes, communication is about opening up possibilities for the future.

Rhetoric provides an opportunity to probe beyond direct and immediate effects. As DamNation, which is presented by clothing manufacturer Patagonia, beautifully demonstrates, the apparent initial failure of some communication isn't the end of the story. Rhetorical symbols like cracks painted on dams were seen as radical, fringe ideas in the 1990s. However, that symbolic act created a foothold for an idea (removing dams) that is becoming more mainstream--to the point that people are embracing and putting their own stamp on the activist art. Now, it's the dams and their environmental impacts that are questioned.

DamNation also reminds us that environmental issues are big and require long-term thinking as well. We created dams to address immediate needs but failed to consider the larger repercussions. That failure led to major problems. Clearly, we can't address the environment only in the short-term, and we shouldn't look at communication that way either.

Thinking big got us dams. Thinking now makes us miss so much. And thinking long has major possibilities.