We’re entering a golden age of extemporary oration
For centuries, the written world has ruled. Now, it’s losing its footing.
We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: if one more white dude recommends the Joe Rogan podcast to us we’re gonna throw our phones out the window. But his and other podcasters’ popularity is symbolic of a tectonic shift in mass communication.
We’re at an inflection point — and pop culture, social media, and technology trends have finally compounded to create the perfect conditions for a public speaking comeback.
We’re writing (and reading) less than ever
There are the ways that are obvious: podcasts outnumber humans on the Earth; unscripted television has supplanted scripted (first via daytime TV, then with the Real World); writing on social media has been compressed from blogging to tweeting to Tok’ing, which involves no writing at all (and sounds a little too much like the word “talking” for us to take it as mere coincidence).
But, even the words we write have gotten more conversational. As writer Zeynep Tufekci puts it, if a TV news anchor with a teleprompter is speaking what is written, Twitter is writing what is spoken — leaning on slang, idea fragments, and references we might use talking to our friends over a beer. Not to mention, where we used to slave over email salutations, we can now Slack a coworker “brb” and expect to keep our jobs.
In short, the future is now. This brings us, of course, to Clubhouse.
Clubhouse: the best thing since Gutenberg?
Judging by the sheer number of pushy notifications we get from it every hour, maybe not. Gutenberg’s printing press was a natural extension of the need to disseminate information quickly across a globalizing world. Likewise, Clubhouse, the “drop-in audio chat app” is merely a natural extension of a trend we’ve been seeing for decades, coupled with new tech: voice assistants and other “smart” devices that have desensitized us to hearing our own, horrible voices.
And all that means that in white, western culture, speaking off-the-cuff is back en vogue (or, we’re all just catching up to Fran Lebowitz — you decide…).
The good news?
BIPOC are already one step ahead
The rise of oration could be a huge boon to BIPOC and non-western cultures who, as Tufekci writes, “have remained close/closer to oral culture” in large part because they did historically not have access to, or were prohibited from, learning written forms of communication alongside their white peers.
Marginalized groups thriving on new mediums of communication leaning on the eons-old oral tradition? Ya love to see it.
The bad news?
The pace of content prohibits preparation
(Hey, look! There’s your tongue twister for the day…)
Instead, we just have to prepare to be unprepared. Getting comfortable synthesizing ideas and speaking extemporaneously — dare we say, improvisationally — may be our generation’s “words per minute;” a pre-requisite skill that can influence our careers, social lives, and creative pursuits.
That means our ability to speak authentically, rely less on rote memorization, and put less value on perfection have never been more important. And we probably should’ve made this article a Tik Tok.