Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Dying Art of Oratory?

As the world evolves and technology becomes practically ubiquitous, traditional media for communication have found themselves threatened. During this era of technology, we are witnessing the steady decline of the morning newspaper and the paperback book, making way for digital alternatives. With the gradual death of these media, what can we then say for the oldest medium of communication: oratory?

Oratory has long been regarded as one of the most potent forms of communication. A good speech can change the world. There are countless examples of oratory's power spread across history's pages. Indeed, merely saying the names Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln conjures up images of some of their most powerful speeches. Oratory ended slavery. Oratory demanded civil rights. Oratory got women the vote. Much of what we take for granted in today's world would not exist if it weren't for the orators who championed the movements that changed the world. Despite its potency, oratory could soon be facing its death at the hands of the technology era.

Many of the political leaders today are characterised by their lack of oratorical prowess. Tony Abbott can barely get three words out with stumbling, Bill Shorten couldn't get a metaphor straight if his life depended on it and many of the current government ministers are about as entertaining as a 40 car pile up. Despite their uselessness in front of a microphone, these politicians still manage to get our support. This is because contemporary politics is now dominated by soundbites and control of the news cycle; there is simply no more room for big ideas and the speeches the fuel them. Unsurprisingly, the transition to a more reductive type of politics has been driven by emerging technologies. No longer is there the need to give anything more than a sound bite, as anything more substantial is immediately crowded out by the sheer volume of information that is published on digital media.

With all that said, it does seem pretty doom and gloom for oratory. Though it is becoming less and less vital in politics, it would be premature to say that it is dead. A good speech is able to cut through the noise and is still capable of acting as the driving force behind bold movements. There are countless examples of this happening recently. Barack Obama's rousing speeches surely played an enormous part in his election as the United States' first African-American president. Julia Gillard's slam-down on Tony Abbott made her famous worldwide and inspired countless young women to get involved in leadership. Emma Watson's HeforShe speech to the UN guided progressives towards a new type of feminism inclusive of men. Rather than be stamped out by the noise of the internet, these three have managed to be the noise on it. Their respective speeches managed to proliferate and were shared around the world more quickly than a speech has ever been shared before.


Though oratory has suffered a blow at the hands of the technology era, its long history has yet to come to an end. Oratory is one of the few traditional media of communication that has been able to cut through the noise of the technology era and resonated with the people. Rather than die a gradual death at the hands of technology, oratory has been embraced by it and lives to fight another day.

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