March 18, 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Trailing not far behind the introduction of a successful new communications technology are the human and technological gatekeepers. Human gatekeepers include receptionists, executive assistants, recruiters, bureaucrats, budget managers, script readers—anyone that has the power to slow, stop or accelerate access to someone or something. They’re used to taking messages that they’ll never actually relay, used to deciding whether inquiries are worth the attention of the people they work for and, above all else, used to saying “no” and “not interested.” Their ultimate charter as gatekeepers is to allow the people that are paid to focus on important things from having to make hundreds of tiny decisions every day that threaten to derail productivity. It’s easy to see this work from a cynic’s perspective. After all, these are people that are paid to stop others from getting through. But the reality is more nuanced. Great work requires sustained concentration, and the ability to devote high-level resources to the projects and tasks that merit this attention. Everything else can be more efficiently dealt with by subordinates or no one at all. Making those calls is a necessary role, and probably fairly thankless.
While it still plays a big part in society and business, human gatekeeping needs to be supplemented or replaced by technological gatekeeping in order for organizations to scale. Some technological gatekeeping is put in place to hide or remove public information. The CEO’s direct line can’t be listed on the company website, and his or her email address shouldn’t be something easily guessed, like email@example.com. In 2009, The Radicati Group projected that the number of spam emails sent per day would reach 424 billion in 2013, making up 84% of all messages. But, thanks to automated filtering, only 20% of them actually show up in inboxes. This gatekeeping comes at a significant cost, however, as the same report found that medium to large companies are spending millions each fighting spam.
Some gatekeeping occurs without the people behind the gate ever knowing it. Controlling the flow of information is one of the oldest forms of gatekeeping, and we often have no say in the matter. Media outlets choose which programs and content to air, newspapers choose what to print, and the audience traditionally has no say in these decisions. Information that is of high value may never reach us, and in the old media environment, the best we could hope for was that some of it does. As we’ll explore in later chapters, social has radically changed both distribution and consumption. It amplifies our ability to reach and influence people with information, and is not constrained by the same level of media gatekeeping.