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Where the media end and you begin

In the information ether, choices proliferate - and the accumulation of choices made is world-changing.

May 9, 2005



ADRIAN, MICH.

Excerpted from a graduation address given May 1 at Adrian College in southeast Michigan by Stephen T. Gray, managing publisher of The Christian Science Monitor.

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My family and Adrian College have ties going back more than 120 years. My great-grandfather graduated from Adrian in 1883 and came back as a professor in 1905. In 1910, my grandfather graduated from Adrian, too, and then went into journalism.

In 1927, he and a partner bought the nearby Monroe Evening News. My dad followed in his footsteps as a reporter, editor, and president, as I did, before moving to The Christian Science Monitor in Boston.

Our lives were - mine still is - completely wrapped up in the media. But your lives are, too. The media saturate your lives far more than any previous generation. This will affect you more profoundly than you can imagine. Today I hope to give you a glimpse of your future.

I'll be talking about the media - the whole chaotic soup we live in, including print, electronic, and so-called "new media" like the Internet, e-mail, text messaging, video-streaming and so on - all the channels that carry information.

And by information, I mean all types of content - news, general knowledge, entertainment, shopping, and educational information - even movies, music, advertising, video games, and sports events.

All these channels, and all this content, constitute today's information environment. It's omnipresent, like the air we breathe. It's like the story where one fish says to the other, "I understand what they mean when they talk about the rocks, and I know what they mean when they talk about the seaweed. But what do they mean when they talk about 'the water'?"

"The water" - information - shapes and defines our very being. What comes into your consciousness drives your thoughts, which determine your actions. Because information is the only thing that causes people to change their behavior. People will go right on doing what they're doing - until they get new information.

When I heard Morris Shechtman, a management consultant, say that, my first thought was, "How obvious!" But then I realized how profound it was.

You will keep eating the same foods until you learn about a new, more delicious food, and living in the same city until you hear about a better opportunity in another city. All it takes is new information about something that will improve your life, and change happens.

This is the equation for all personal and global change: New information drives choices, and choices drive change.

Change is happening all over the world, this instant, because people are discovering new choices. And it's been going on through history - but when information multiplies as it is today, the pace of change goes wild.

Everything is changing faster than ever: consumer goods, technology, and lifestyles - even the world's economic, social, and political structures.

People make choices one at a time, but when a lot of people do it at once, the impact is huge. The Rose Revolution happened in the nation of Georgia in 2003 because people knew their election had been stolen, and so did those who joined the Orange Revolution in Ukraine last year.

To see how the information environment has changed, look at Adrian in my grandfather's day, when people got new information from just a few sources: a daily newspaper, word of mouth, letters, books, and an occasional national magazine or mail-order catalog. That's it: No radio, TV, cable, Internet, or cellphones - even telephones were new.

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