The Silent Revolution – Not.

The Silent Revolution – Not.

Hitting the nail on the head may create sparks. I agree with Steven Ramage, the phrase ‘silent revolution’ is annoying. But there’s another phrase that’s worse, and that’s ‘now is the time for’ … anything.

In this context, it’s ‘now is the time for geospatial’. It could be, ‘now is the time for geographic information’. Or it might even be my personal bugbear, ‘now is the time for big data to find its place in X industry’. (Actually, that one’s got some appeal. I might use it later.)

In a mild-mannered tweet this morning, Steven expressed his view on some of the content he’d read, here, on the GWF Conference’s website. He said, “How is it a ‘silent revolution’ when thousands of people are talking about democratisation of Earth observations?” He went on: “Do I misunderstand the use of the term ‘silent’? Please enlighten me and everyone else who reads your marketing blurb.”

[The punctuation I’ve shown here is mine, not Steven’s. I didn’t add interrobangs – ?! – but I’m guessing they might not be out of place.]

The GWF Conference has its own allure. Any annual event that takes place for over a decade should congratulate itself. It should also thank its sponsors frequently and, in uncertain economic times, be grateful to delegates (and their employers) for turning up so consistently.  

However, from a purely marketing perspective, I agree with Steven: the marketing ‘blurb’ for that event does miss the mark. It’s not me. It’s not him. It feels as though the description was written by someone who’s been introduced to the potential of earth observation recently. He or she rummaged around the internet for some statistics and then wrote a blurb – **STILL BLINDED BY THE LIGHT**.

That lightbulb-effect is something many of us have seen, particularly when we’re explaining the myriad use cases for geographic information. I love it. The wattage varies, but when someone gets it – when someone suddenly understands the relationship between contours and context for the very first time – it can be quite an event. If it’s not life-changing, then it might be business-shaping.

A marketing team rarely sits in on those sessions. As a consequence, much marketing puff [technical term] and many speakers’ notes [non-technical term] can, unfortunately, then undermine the credibility of their publishers’ or speakers’ intent. I’ve heard several people use the phrase, ‘now is the time for geospatial!’ recently, as they’ve been emulating or taking one of William Priest’s quotes slightly out of context – and it drives, me, nuts.

Now is not the time for geospatial. Geospatial has been going on for years and years and yes, I know, I’m conflating verbs and nouns and all-sorts here, but isn’t that the beauty of the English language? Its ability to communicate without great syntax – sometimes?

The immutable hard point is this: in the same way thousands of people talking about the democratisation of earth observation is not a ‘silent revolution’, the geospatial industry hasn’t just manifested itself out of thin air in the last 18 months. It’s existed for aeons.

Now is, perhaps, the time to hunker down and increase other sectors’ awareness of the potential for using geographic information … that, I do agree with … and to achieve this, we do need to communicate more effectively … but the integration of geospatial data, its usage, its potential, the protagonists who’ve been making a living in the industry … none of those is new, are they?

What’s new, what’s exciting to see, is increasing awareness of the sector-agnostic potential for geographic information – and the greater exposure of imagery and data created by earth observation. None of that qualifies as a silent revolution.

Silent revolution is a horrible expression. Forbes uses it about once a year to describe the hubbub around ‘Artificial Intelligence – Leading The Silent Revolution in HealthCare’ (just healthcare, apparently). The New Yorker used it in 1879 to describe English farmers becoming freeholders, thereby upsetting the tenure of small country squires in a bid to compete on wheat prices and exports with the MidWest – sound familiar, much?

My proposed ‘blurb’ for that GWF page would have been much shorter:

No statistics, you note.
It’s never the value of data that brings delegates together – it’s the quality of the event. 

It’s not a silent revolution if everyone’s making a noise. 

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