I’m beginning to think we can judge the shape of things to come by the shape of the digits in the year that they’re coming.  Years with a preponderance of round-shape numbers (like 0 and 8) seem to be decidedly bad ones.  Round years have been what the Chinese curse would call “interesting”—as in, “May you live in interesting times.”

In 2000, a bursting tech bubble rolled over the economy before most of us could roll over our IRAs.  Of course, 9/11 occurred in 2001 (with mostly curvy numbers).  Not all years with roundish figures in them have been bad ones, but combine the disasters of the 2000s with the Great Blizzard (50 inches of snow) of 1888 in the eastern United States, the 10-to-20-megaton meteoroid/comet explosion of 1908 that leveled 80 million Siberian trees over 830 square miles (two more round numbers), the assassinations and riots of 1968 (some loopy figures for a loopy year) and 1988’s Hurricane Gilbert (341 died in the Atlantic’s second-most-intense hurricane on record,) and we might at the least take pause as we start 2008.

Things look a little scary right now—because they are: an unprecedented credit crisis surrounding housing that is severely impacting Rust Belt and Sun Belt communities alike, a still-downsizing auto industry, a stubborn war in Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with threats roiling around a nuclear Iran—even entertainment bums us out with writer strikes, rewritten steroidal record books in track and baseball, and the inability of any number-one-two-or-three-ranked college football team to stay there.

But 2008 is an election year, and “change” is a given for this election.  A prospective new president with a still-young Democratic Congress may inspire faith in some and fear in others.  It’s during times like these that the world relies most urgently on the work of communicators to sort out exactly who, where and what we should trust.  Whether they be traditional journalists investigating Chinese imports, YouTube contributors asking questions of presidential candidates, bloggers advising consumers and voters on reliable products and people, or writers who enlighten us on the screen and on stage by looking at who we are and where we’re going, we need communicators of all types to round out our understanding of a tumultuous world.

In 2008, professional communicators must redouble their efforts to deliver honest and balanced accounts of issues that really do make a difference in our lives; and informal communicators should understand their responsibilities for clearly defining opinion, fact and speculation  in the blogosphere, across social networks and in word-of-mouth environments.

Let’s see fewer diversions and more depth in examining the issues.  As we enter an election year, we need clear insights rather than mudslinging.  What we communicators say often makes a tremendous difference on our lives and our history; what we communicate attracts the comments of others and the collaborative thinking of a nation.  What goes around comes around, and the next round in this round-numbered year demands champion communicators who responsibly stimulate and guide our national conversation.

— Steve Friedman

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