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Everything’s a conversation, except when it’s not

Social media has penetrated even the most conservative institutions (such as real estate, property development, and municipal politics), and from where I’m sitting right now, it looks as if it’s driving a coffin nail of sorts into what was The Cluetrain‘s seminal insight, markets are conversations. That insight, incidentally, was from 1999.

And now those institutions are partying like it’s 1999, I guess…

The local chapter of an urban development institute sends out its November 2010 newsletter. We read the following:


[unnamed urban development institute in unnamed locale] continues to work with local municipalities on issues of interest to the development industry. (…) Our members sit on a variety of committees [locally] either as official [unnamed urban development institute] representatives or as general development representatives. Our members report they are active in many conversations including City of [right here] OCP [Official Community Plan] workshops taking place over the next week or so. This is what makes being part of [unnamed urban development institute] so important. Our members care about the industry and the communities in which we operate.

[unnamed urban development institute – local chapter] has initiated a new policy conversation around potential tax breaks for green buildings. President, T. L., and member, K. J., are actively engaging politicians at all levels across the province in this new [unnamed urban development institute of right here, local chapter’s] initiative.

[unnamed urban development institute – local chapter] is opposed to the proposed general downzoning of the [local/ downtown] neighbourhood and continues our conversation with the City about this and other topics related to the draft Core Downtown Plan.

I love this org and I know that “our members care about the industry and the communities in which we operate” is not cant. They do. I don’t mind that they’re focusing on conversations, either (although the word loses its meaning through overuse, don’t you think?).

But next, and on the very same day, someone sends me a link to an article in the local weekly “alt” paper, where the city’s Mayor has published a bit of propaganda aimed at convincing voters to vote a certain way in an upcoming (Nov.20) referendum. And I guess that was enough to make me kinda sick of the conversation meme.

The article’s title, A Bridge for the Future, wants to convince us that we aren’t really stuck in 1999, but are heading into a Brave New World instead. After numerous bromides about the importance of maintaining a strong city economy – so that the City can continue to run the city – the Mayor adds:

This brings me to the current conversation on the Johnson Street Bridge.

Whoa – wait! What has happened with regard to the Johnson Street Bridge has gone way beyond “conversation,” as far as I can tell.

And, as a long-ago participant of sometimes frustrating, sometimes thrilling conversations with the actual authors of The Cluetrain, pardon me if – right now – I’m a tad skeptical hearing this called a conversation. I think I’m smelling snow early in the season instead.

The City of Victoria is spending $150,000 (tax payers’ money) in an ad campaign to convince voters to vote “yes” in the Nov.20 referendum, yet the “no” side, entirely funded by grassroots volunteer time and money, is not even given equal space to advertise its “no” campaign. The City’s “yes” posters are plastered on every on-street pay parking kiosk and the City’s orchestrated “yes” message flashes on the sports arena’s ultra-bright display, but “no” posters (printed at volunteer expense) are to be restricted to the fifty officially sanctioned poles in the city.

For a conversation to make sense, it has to take place on a level field. This is not it. Therefore, it’s not a conversation.

1 Comment

  1. Yule, your post reminds me of the difference betweeen ‘conversation’ and ‘dialogue’. Engagement is part of a dialogue. Conversations may be 1-way, as you highlight.

    Comment by ben ziegler — November 5, 2010 #

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