Word-of-mouth communication still a powerful tool on campus

Tyson Nafus


We share a connection right now. Reading this column, you’re discovering what this newest issue offers in both interesting facts and quotable lines. It’s not a phenomenon; it’s communal knowledge, and it’s increasing at a very rapid rate. The amount of information available with a few flicks of the fingertips is astounding, but what’s even more remarkable is how much is expected to be known from it. For instance, names like Kony, Gaga, Maddox or Kardashian mean nothing to some, while others immediately react in strong ways, positively or negatively.  Honestly though, who could hate Lady Gaga? In a world with iPods and streaming Netflix, news-of-the-day is somehow still an integral part of everyday interactions. Now why, in a world so full of popular culture to absorb and relevant information to take in, does the word-of-mouth news remain fairly consistent between people?

Current local news takes priority since it’s more easily observed and directly affects anyone that lives in the area. For example, Pierson Hall residents don’t need a news feature to know that the construction noise is disruptive. The bags under their eyes are evidence enough. However, what if the news is not as obvious as heavy machinery and clanging metal? A hidden menace, like a sudden change in parking policies or emergency cancelling of classes, would not be immediately apparent but is just as important to know. Email alerts are sometimes sent promptly, yet the conversations of the day still tend to start with this topic of excess ticketing and cancelled lectures.

Sometimes, simply knowing a news item before someone informs you about it can hint at a common interest. From there, similar tastes can lead to further discussions, creating pleasant discourse. For instance, two strangers can speak at length about how poorly a housewife in New Jersey disrespects her family or how lukewarm gravity is a much more solid concept than string theory if the topic shared between them lines up. That brings another question to mind: why stay up-to-date on topics that lie outside your personal interests?

A sense of community is still important in society. Every department at this university has a group of minds that, while not always in agreement on a personal level, share a common interest and expertise in fields they’ve come to represent for this institution. Just like those gathered by common mindsets, people tend to group with those who share their own ideals and interests.  Sometimes the best way to find out the details is as easy as noticing a pattern in what someone brings up in conversation. If that fact is associated with a current event, it usually strengthens its importance of being shared with others. That is, unless your interests happen to include ritual sacrifice. Sharing may not always be caring in that case.

That’s the key factor, though: sharing. Engagement in the cultural common knowledge of the day shows a desire to know the plights of fellow people, and that gives everyone similar starting ground for conversation. Just avoid discussing the custom of blood-spilling to appease the Sun God and you’ll do fine.

Tyson Nafus is a graduate student studying sociology and can be emailed at [email protected].