The Age of Understanding is Here…and it’s Worth Paying Attention To.

The Age of Information

With the plethora of information available to us online, you’d think we’d understand things better than we did before. Sometimes, though, it’s just the opposite. In the past week, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many more news outlets have been writing about the degree to which social media misinformation affects current events.

Technology has played a significant role in increasing the average person’s access to information, of course, but it’s also increased access to so-called facts, misinformation, and opinions. Just look at social media feeds, news sites, blogs, and everything in between. We self-diagnose health issues on WebMD, try to solve our relationship quandaries with quizzes, and fill idle moments going down Wikipedia rabbit holes. Our brains are processing more input than they’ve ever had to before. It’s complicated, to say the least.

There’s one #brandtruth we may not be taking in amidst all this input.

Access to information is different from accessing real understanding.

Too often, our “what you want, when you want it” information age means seeking out only echo chambers for our fears, beliefs, and interpretations. Depending on your worldview, we may or may not agree on what exactly the truth is, but I think we can all agree that there’s plenty of information that’s confusing, misleading, or straight-up wrong

Just ask your doctor.

What we need is a certain critical awareness — a desire and effort to understand ideas, people, and situations more fully — that could help us make better use of the incredible information resources available to us.

The Age of Understanding

Working with our translation and content management client SDL these past months, we’ve had time to deeply consider what it means to really understand. In our discussions, we thought about how, on a practical level, most of the world is connected to one another via the internet. We live in different countries, speak different languages, and come from different cultures. We may have the ability to reach out and connect, but putting information on the web is a far cry from ensuring that people actually understand whatever it is that you’re saying.

Which is exactly the problem that SDL is working on.

Lack of understanding is a multivalent issue that spans business, relationships, and (not to be overly dramatic, but) the way our whole world operates. How much more would your customers on the other side of the world love your brand if your message really hit home with them? If they didn’t just see the words and piece it together as best they could, but really understood it like it came from a trusted friend? Needless to say, it’s an exciting proposition for business.

SDL has the sexy linguistic science to handle language and cultural barriers, which they presented at #SDLConnect16. (Let’s say that again — zero language barriers?! Tower of Babel, baby!)

But our thoughts and the SDL message go even deeper than that. Until now, most of us have failed to imagine a world in which we truly understand one another. We haven’t thought beyond “really good online dictionaries” and “natural language processing.” These are all great, but they just scratch the surface when it comes to making real human-to-human connections in the digital word.

True understanding is precisely the vision we heard recently from our client at the SDL Connect event.

What would happen if all of us — businesses, friends, neighbors, opponents — not only wanted to understand one another, but actually could? What if we could get beyond the clumsiness of words, the inaccuracies of expression, and the cultural/linguistic borders that divide us? What effect could that have beyond business, science, relationships, and diplomacy?

The raw potential for increased understanding is mind-boggling — but well worth trying to wrap your head around.

We’ve cured diseases, sent people to the moon, and invented robots that dust our floors for us. Shouldn’t we be able to understand what our neighbors and customers across the country or across the world are saying? They’re worth paying attention to.

It’s time for us to use our intelligence to move beyond the indiscriminate fact-gathering of the Information Age and into the Age of Understanding. For businesses and brands wanting to thrive in this new world, the switch isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. People — including your current and future customers — have a right to understand what you’re saying. How will your brand make the transition?

Ciana Wilson is a brand strategist at House of Who, a multidisciplinary arthouse and agency crafting custom communications for clients in the digital age. She uses strategy, design, writing, and dance to discover and share things that are awesome with people who rock.