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Regenerative Communications: Re:storying the Possibility of a Thriving World

Posted on: mai 31, 2024

Regenerative communications are a life-affirming approach to bring back aliveness and meaningfulness to human and more-than-human exchanges.

Rather than offering a single definition and absolute truth, they invite us to question the narratives and communication patterns born out of our industrial civilization. This article explores the starting point of the re:storied journey: the status quo of today’s world of communications and marketing. What do we need to understand about communications today to be able to embrace the possibility of a thriving world?

Our age has been called a Communication Age. Ever more technologies transmit information ever more seamlessly and rapidly. Particularly in industrialized societies, our lives have become almost unthinkable without the latest communication technologies. Although communications have become digitally facilitated, we are witnessing great paradoxes. Loneliness, misunderstandings, filter bubbles, disinformation, information overloads and other phenomena may have become the qualitative flipside of a quantitative explosion of information.

If we are to overcome today’s social, ecological, and economic crises, we must learn to re:embrace the quality of communications as “bringing together”, as its Latin roots indicate. Today, however, they often contribute to more polarization and fragmentation. Why so? Looking back at history, the field of PR and marketing was established to boost corporate sales by associating products and services with unconscious desires, thus creating an emotional connection, to the point of addiction, between a brand or product and its customers.

Marketing as the manipulation of our unconscious desires

The field’s “visionary”, PR consultant Edward Bernays, used his cousin Sigmund Freud’s theories to manipulate public perception and “engineer consent”, or in other words, to trick people into buying things they don’t consciously need but whose promises they unconsciously desire. In his book Propaganda, Bernays argues that:

those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.

This understanding of PR, marketing, and also communications can be characterized as being one-directional and instrumental — it’s about influencing others, convincing, up to manipulating. Most of today’s best practice guides are standardising such an understanding of communications. Reciprocity as a fundamental principle of community has being replaced by the extractive logic of the markets – “marketing”.

The automated attention economy as the landscape of our consciousness

Today’s digital attention economy, led by monopolized platforms, operates on the script that reduces our presence on Earth to that of a consumer and interest-led individual.

The industry is using militaristic “strategies” and “tactics” that divide people into “target groups”, focus on eternal growth and reduce our role as communicators to an almost robotic obedience of KPIs. Which role does being a human being; being part of nature play here?

With the automation of digital communications through Artificial Intelligence, there are now more interactions with robots than between people online. AI’s main protagonists are openly claiming to be “futurists” — a technology-obsessed ideology that in the last century, paved the way to Italian fascism. Futurism wanted to irradicate adjectives from our vocabulary to focus on nouns as what “matters” — a troubling materialistic worldview.

Galaxy Magazine cover February 1961

The robotization of human interaction

Today’s ubiquitous use of digital communications has a profound impact on the way we see and act within the world.

Growing rates of disengagement, disconnection, and depression are also a consequence of our way of communicating today. Understanding, meaningfulness, and aliveness have become scarce. Therefore, there is a great craving for feeling, dreaming, and being fully present to ourselves and the world around us.

Despite their great potential role in envisioning what it could mean to inhabit planet Earth, many of today’s marketing and communication agencies are however still operating on toxic scripts. There is little reflection on the role of an agency today – their very presentation often says little about who they are and why they do what they do – as if there were no humans behind them.

The enormous potential for communication and marketing agencies

Besides agencies’ immense responsibility for what has been called “advertized emissions”, there may be an even greater issue to deal with: the normalization of violence in all aspects of life.

We don’t see in which conditions products are produced. We can buy green lifestyle products to forget about the root causes of the problems we try to buy ourselves out of. Even our dreams are firmly shaped by technological redemption promises — a reflection of the worldview of some billionaires.

Why are agencies not stepping up to embrace sustainability and regeneration?

One reason communication agencies and professionals may not leave the trajectory defined by the likes of Bernays is that it is deeply uncomfortable. Indeed, realizing that we have contributed to maintaining the illusions of our consumerist society; to promoting (often indirect) violence towards humans, animals, planets (e.g. Mars colonization), and our earth; and to monopolizing the attention of the masses for the benefit of a few shareholders is a difficult and sobering realization.

Found on Pinterest, source unknown

What becomes possible if we shift the story of what communications are about?

As communicators, it may then seem crucial to understand where dominant narratives — for instance on freedom or progress, come from. Often, they are rooted in an extractive worldview that normalizes violence and decontextualizes facts from their greater story ecology.

During our workshops and community sessions we digest these toxic narratives that show up in our everyday communications.

While understanding the origins of the communication and marketing industries is crucial to identifying recurring toxic patterns coming back today, it is insufficient.

Many sustainability narratives today paint a rather gloomy picture with little space left to re:imagine what it could mean to live healthily and happily within planetary and regional boundaries. That’s why re:storied’s approach to communication starts with re:imagining the narratives we communicate from. What stories are waiting to be told?

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