What gets me every time I hear Martin Luther King speak is this: he didn’t have a blog. Nor did he use podcasts, e-mails or iPhones. He was a low tech-man. All he needed was a podium, a microphone and an audience. He was influential because of what he said and how he said it, not the pipe or protocol the message was delivered on.

MLK is a reminder that message transcends technology. The medium might be a message, but it’s not the only message – the McLuhan quote is so twisted and misused in one of the great ironies, as his obfuscated writing makes his message hard to understand.

The inspiration is this: if technology empowers people, where are the powerful, meaningful messages? On a day like today everything that seems so important in the tech and business world seems superficial. How do these messages help people? How does this message enlighten or effect change? What progress does this afford, and for who? (See: Software Is Not Epic)

I’m trying to use MLK as a sanity check:

  • When will I write about what’s important?
  • When will I help good messages, and the people behind them, to find larger audiences?
  • Why am I not volunteering more time for what I believe, rather than what’s popular, fun or lucrative?
  • When was the last time I saw technology help someone in true need? When was the last time I delivered that help?

If MLK could move millions with the spoken word, what should I be able to do with all of this wonderful technology and empowerment at my disposal? Whose message is out there now that I can help spread or support?

“You want to be important? Wonderful. You want to be recognized? Wonderful. You want to be great? wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.. By giving that definition of greatness it means everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” to serve. You don’t have to know the Second Theory of Thermal Dynamics in Physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love, and you can be that servant.”

From MLK’s, Feb 4th, 1968 sermon

MLK Online: videos, speeches and transcripts
Seattle times MLK special

Martin Luther King Jr. wikipedia entry


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12 Responses to “MLK, technology and inspiration”

  1. ario |

    Thanks for this post Scott… thoughts like these come to me often during my daily gaze into the blogosphere. I had a professor in college that would tell us that “A difference to be a difference has to make a difference” and so I often ask myself, “what’s the real difference?” when I come across the latest new-fangled tech thing everyone’s getting excited about.

    I appreciate your ability to take your ideas and concretize them so eloquently as you do regularly here.

    Reply
  2. Scott (admin) |

    Hey you’re welcome!

    Problem is I look at all the stuff I’ve written and ask: this is important? These were worth the time to write? and run off making lists of things I think are important… but find I doubt anyone would want to read such things.

    I think as soon as anything has labels like “this is important” or “this makes a difference” on them they become preachier than shit – which points out another thing MLK did: he talked about important things without falling into most of the traps that make listening to someone talk about ‘important’ things boring as hell.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up now.

    Reply
  3. Scott (admin) |

    Good link: reminds me of this as a long standing problem among artists and writers. Henry Miller went on and on about his eventual indifference to his audience: he wrote books that were important to him, and the world (and certainly critics) could be dammed.

    Many artists voiced similar opinions, in fact some (Picasso, Dali) felt that their art could only be good if they tuned out their perception of how a work would be received. If they’re stopping to think about their audience and aiming their work at some external opinion, they’re no longer making art.

    But writing essays and non-fiction isn’t the same thing, so the motivations, and the risks are not the same.

    Reply
  4. Jason Bates |

    Hey Scott,

    Really nice post!

    I do believe that there is something seductive and influential about authenticity that doesn’t need dressing up in the clothes of rational persuasion. In fact the ‘frameworks’ of writing great essays often seem to be modelled on essays that were intuited, (I suppose that this ties in with the ad-libbing of the dream speech mentioned above)

    I wonder about your thoughts about writing essays and non-fiction not being the same… and I wonder. ditto for the motivations and risks… what do you see the differences being?

    JB>

    Reply
  5. gman |

    Two things come to mind.

    1) Maybe it depends on what you post. Lots of sights post useful info like how to adjust a nikon scanner so it actually works or how to use the Chinese rail system etc. (vs blogs that just repost the news and their opinion of it)

    2) Maybe we can’t all change the world in big chunks like MLK. Lots this *tech* has effected my life. I’ve used a shared google spreadsheet a few times now to orgazines large events with friends. Social networks keep me and my larger group of friends more in touch so I have more events to go to and see people for real than I ever had in the past.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t do something great like MLK but maybe lots of people doing smaller things is also collectively pretty great too.

    The whole simplicity arguement…..One example of one sense of simplicity working is blogs. Before running a website was as easy as posting an email far less people did it. Now it’s simple and more people do it each day. In otherwords, the discussions themsevles about simplicity probably in the past lead someone to dream up the blog. My point being even these seemingly meaningless topics actually have meaning and collectively they contribute.

    or not?

    Reply
  1. [...] Scott Berkun: MLK, Technology and Inspiration : “if technology empowers people, where are the powerful, meaningful messages?” – my earlier idea of a weighted-average technorati most favorited blogs should help [...]

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