Moving From Sight-Byte to Sight-Byte: Are We Losing The Ability to Critically Think?
All the rage last week about Twitter and the “contest” for 1 million followers got me thinking (critically) about micro-blogging and “sight-bytes”. 140 characters. Like a 20-30 second sound byte, but read instead of heard. Is that really enough space to peel back meaning from, is it enough space to connect dots over a broader spectrum?
I’m a search marketer. I’m an SEO. I use Twitter and a variety of other micro-blogging sites as a necessity of the trade. However, my roots lie in literature, actual books, where deconstruction and critical thinking is at the forefront of the art. Where words combine together to make sentences. And those sentences meld together to form paragraphs. Then thoughts. And, eventually, arguments of logic or whole stories? Right. Those.
The Search Marketing Value: Yeah, I Get It
As a search marketer, I see the value, and inherent genius, in micro-blogging. Sharp brevity is the key to any great marketing campaign. Why say something in 30 words when you can melt it down to 140 characters and still make it timely, relevant, and enticing? More importantly, the medium allows for instant communication with thousands and tens of thousands, with an added bonus of reaching new audiences virally. As a marketing tool, if used originally and uniquely, it can be tremendously powerful. But as Michael Gray points out, there are a lot of Web 2.0 Weenies out there. (Maybe I’m even one of them? But at some level EVERYONE is.)
Twitter and other micro-blogging sites out there (Plurk and Facebook to name a couple) allow you to spread your ideas quick and wide without much effort. You’re in the mix before you know you’re in the mix. And for SEO/SEM it’s a great way to propel traffic, new visitors, and get links to the site; in fact, it’s a key strategy to any solid SEM campaign. Hell, with the right people at the helm, it can be fantastic brand recognition and management tool to create revenue streams that might not have materialized otherwise.
Corporations and entrepreneurs alike should be using them to promote and pull in business. For one, it adds to accountability and responsibility for actions in the marketplace, just look up AmazonFail. And then tell me that social media doesn’t have a place. Good God, they are still being roasted over the coals for their massive faux pa. Second, you’ve got your fingers on the pulse of consumers; you’re going know real quick whether folks think your business is total cluster-fuck or walking the line.
Either way, you know about it and can a) promote that goodwill around or b) get your shit together and fly right. That’s the tip of the iceberg, SMM/SMO is just in it’s infancy, the next year or two we’ll see some major things happen that will all make this a requirement for every business. It won’t be a “luxury” tactic, or “risky” tactic for much longer. And yet, with all the great things social media brings to the table, there is an inevitable downside.
The Micro-Blogging Backlash: Where’s My Mind?
It’s no big secret that people are getting dumber. Sure, everything is faster. More information is received and processed in a overwhelming variety of ways; we’re all multi-tasking our asses off, but we’re dumber. We’ve got the attention span of a ferret on a triple espresso working on its fourth Red Bull of the day.
We need our instant-gratification of information now. We’ve become a nation, possibly even a world, of headlines, sound-bytes, and sight-bytes. No one reads for meaning anymore: we want the gist cause’ we’re all way too busy to be bothered with details.
My theory is this: the more prevalent micro-blogging and social networking become, the more we just want information “fed” to us. The more malleable we become, the more we accept things as “truth” without so much as a considering pause, the more we lose our ability to critically think. It’s dissolving our critical thinking skills.
Just as the 30 second sound byte trumped the notion of “out-of-context” and becomes binding Gospel, so too will the “sight-byte”. It’s how we make or break presidential candidates, it’s how laws are passed and accepted by a general populous, and, sadly, it’s what passes for knowledge. What a person can sum up in 140 characters is, these days, a testament to what you know and can pass on (i.e. the retweet (RT)).
I’m guilty too. There is no “throwing stones at glass houses” here. I find myself wanting to fit more in the day with less time. And, rather than indulging in a few selected topics, deriving meaning and making larger connections, I read headlines and absorb sight-bytes. I like “mental candy” on occasion because, in all seriousness, it’s impossible to critically evaluate everything at all times. Micro-blogging sites take advantage of this human weakness and exploit it.
Are the majority of micro-bloggers looking for 140 characters of news updates, knowledge, and information? Absolutely.
The Knife Edge: Working The Balance
The problem and paradox is that more and more information (not just marketing information, but life-affecting news) comes in these short bursts. It’s rather Orwellian when you consider it. You’ll get all you need to know in crisp, 140 character shots. No one has to explain. No one has to deliver details or justification. Think 1984 on a global scale: a singular voice and message flashed across to millions.
Even if business does go into full-on micro-blogging, there will have to be a balance struck. Lest we all consign ourselves to Twitter automatons. And, maybe that’s the plan, after all. If you don’t need to consider information and derive meaning, then (and this is a pretty big leap) all things become automatic and consumerism keeps chugging along at it’s current unsustainable level. Find the balance.