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5 Reasons This Article Is Useless

tang
When did it start these articles solely comprised of numerical lists? Is it the natural evolution from magazine covers;”50 New Looks For Spring” “15 Ways To Make Him Swoon” “10 Tricks To Getting A Proposal”? At some point it was discovered that people respond to Arabic numerals. (You will never see a magazine cover emblazoned with “Twelve Ways To Spruce Up Your Pantry” or “IX Ways To Rock His World”.)

Numerical lists are really only compatible with the most practical of subjects. No one needs flowery exposition on stain removal. Just tell us which 10 items will work best on synthetics. Anything that involves shopping certainly warrants only lists and photos. The average person will slip into unconsciousness having to read anything about high-waisted pants beyond; ‘buy them now’. But articles about human relationships, education, politics, and culture do not lend themselves to bullet points. However numbered lists sell and therein lays the conundrum.

The writer who pens a fully fleshed out piece is pressured to insert numbers (in the title and the body). A writer seeking readership might resort to creating lists versus narrative. There is usually some measure of disappointment for the reader in discovering that the “10 Guys You Should Avoid At All Costs” is a list of 5 guys whose description is vague enough to cover every man who’s walked the earth and 5 guys who are such caricatures as to be more suited to science fiction.

Part of the appeal of these lists passing as content is our attention span as readers. We’re at the point at which we consider a 140 character Tweet to be ‘wordy’. If an email stretches beyond a paragraph (and it better be a tight paragraph) we’ve lost the reader. This love of condensed and concentrated delivery unfortunately extends to the theatre as well. Theatre producers regularly consider the length of a play before mounting a production. Some artistic directors even apologize for a full-length production. The good news is that the trend can’t continue forever. We are not going to devolve into communicating solely through grunts and emoticons. We will probably never revert back to four-hour movies (with intermissions). But some bounce back will occur. People will tire of Tang, they usually do. A new generation is bound to ‘discover’ meaningful and full-length content.

Now I did promise to list 5 Reasons This Article Is Useless. But I trust you dear reader to compile that list on your own.

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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Media/Marketing

 

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All aTwitter

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There are two (polar opposite) views of modernity. There are the early adopters who froth and queue up for new and shiny gizmos and gewgaws and then there are the progress curmudgeons. These curmudgeons sit on their metaphorical porches and attribute the downfall of society to; ‘those dadgum moving picture shows.’ Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two opposing views. The early adopters aren’t a new concept (please don’t tell them that it would just kill them) people have been running to buy what’s being sold since the first wheel kiosk opened. It’s the progress curmudgeons that are far more fascinating. Nobody is born a progress curmudgeon. Every kid is intrigued by something newer, faster, and shinier. No, a curmudgeon must be created. They must find a time in history and stick with it. Any and all things that came after these glory days must not be trusted.

This is not an entirely irrational perspective; some things simply aren’t made as well as they once were. For instance clothes used to be made to last a lifetime, although who would want to wear the same clothes for their entire life alludes me. Cars were far less disposable, but they were also lethal (both for riders and for anyone in the car’s path.) Certainly items were easier to use once upon a time. Picking up the phone and asking the operator to connect you was easier than…pushing a speed dial button? Well a typewriter was certainly easier to use than a computer. You only need insert a ribbon (use lye to remove the ink from your fingers,) insert paper, reinsert paper after you realize the lye missed some spots and ink has leached onto the paper, insert paper again with carbon paper (use lye to remove carbon from fingers) commence typing, commence searching for white-out, miraculously finish letter, try and type address onto envelope, give up and handwrite envelope, find stamp, walk to mailbox, repeat. Fine, communication is easier but what about music. Don’t you miss records? You remember records don’t you? There were those paradoxically highly fragile yet extremely heavy items you had to lug around with you through life. They crackled and skipped and sounded nothing like the real thing.

I think we can all agree that progress is just that; progress. We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to adopt it, but we cannot argue with the fact that it is progress. No one wants to feel left behind or to have his/her rituals upended. But discounting progress, or worse imbuing progress with negative consequences is misguided. How many times have you heard people blaming modern movies and videos for increased violence (as if silent movies weren’t horrifically violent)? And what of this notion that social media is to blame for increased bullying. It’s not lax parenting, or the soul crushing experience of a Kindergarten graduation ceremony that leads to the self-esteem issue that is always at the root of bullying. Nope, it’s social media that is to blame. The same social media that allows for positive reinforcement that simply does not exist in any other domain of the real world with the exception of group therapy. Before the advent of (social media) Linkedin did anyone ever publicly endorse your skills? Whether it is a meaningful gesture or has any validity at all is beside the point. It is a public attaboy that simply did not exist in the past. Before we tweeted, did we publicly support other’s views or endeavors? Do we even remember a life before Facebook and the villages it’s created? When, beside a reunion (family or class) did we ever cheer accomplishments, offer sympathies and coo over baby pictures?

Expanding our sense of community is always a good thing. It reinforces our attachment and obligation to the larger world. Humans despite their many differences are at their core the same; they need to be connected to other people. It is not the gaming or chatting that encourages antisocial behavior; it’s the fact that people are using these outlets to avoid social behavior. In that sense the video game is no more detrimental than the comic book (which was also decried as the downfall of civilization.) The progress doesn’t create maladjusted people, it’s that maladjusted people still crave human interaction, simulated or not. Banning or demonizing the tangible is always more tempting than dealing with the elusive. The only way to reach troubled people is to reach out to troubled people. Blaming something we don’t care for or don’t understand is distracting and disingenuous. Social media, comic books, dime novels or pool do not create trouble. Troubled people are drawn to things that make them feel less alone.

 

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This Just In

There is much to love about new media and greater access to information. The average person (with high speed internet access) can view primary source news in real time throughout the day. If a consumer chooses to, he/she can avail him or herself to messaging from politicians or experts who fly somewhat below the mainstream radar. This level of accessibility democratizes the flow of information for both the source and for the user.

There is a downside to the immediacy and the abundance of the information. Lack of (or flawed) fact checking has become a serious issue both in legitimate journalism and in the blogosphere. Some of these slips are no doubt due to the speed of the news cycle. A certain percentage of slips are a product of ignorance of the very concept of fact checking. (There are a significant number of people who actually consider wikipedia to be a primary source.) It’s also worth a mention that the editing profession ain’t what it once was. One need only pick up a book published (by self or house) in the past few years to witness the change.

Another unfortunate fallout from the glut of information is all the information! It is challenging to weed through so much noise to get to what matters. Rumors or sensational (baseless) accusations turn into news; because quite frankly legitimate news outlets cannot afford to ignore a story everyone is talking/tweeting about. Stories that were once the purview of the National Enquirer, People or any other tabloid, now find themselves in the evening news and newspapers of record. These distasteful ‘stories’ diminish the news source for some viewers/readers. Consumers who have made a point of avoiding the magazines in doctor’s offices and television monitors in airports now find their sensibilities offended in new and distressing ways.

There was a time when people would read the local newspaper for which they felt an affinity. There were New York City newspapers in the double-digits and with multiple daily editions! The network evening news choices were dry and authoritative (the monkey was only on in the morning.) Consumers received their news via a highly filtered process. Somewhere between processed news and raw news lies a happy medium. The consumer is now the editor and very few of us are equipped to do our own fact checking or redlining.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Media/Marketing

 

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Dateline: Twitter

If the 2008 election was the first grassroots get out the vote campaign (in recent memory) than 2012 was the first social media campaign. Since the dawn of the electoral process candidates (and their supporters) have said outrageous things. These statements, either patently false or a scathing truth about a candidate’s character, would mostly go unnoticed. Conversations or speeches made at fundraisers, or other “invitation-only” events might leak out but rarely with any consequence. Candidates making outrageous (if not flat out insane) misinformed statements regarding reproductive biology might be quoted in local media. If the statement or story was sensational enough perhaps national media would have picked up the story. But there was always still a chance that a whispered conversation or two might be able to quash a story.

But today all bets are off and there are few places to hide. Advances in hardware and software have created an everyman press corps. Audio and visual recording can be made with phones. Social media has created a souped-up uber-grapevine. The more outrageous the statement the higher it will trend. A statement made in public, which might have been reported in print, now can become a catchphrase/punchline in 24 hours.

Tradition media is influenced by all of this. Every candidate and his or her cadre of spin machinists know this. Which means that when a candidate utters something worthy of a hardcore Scooby Doo “huh?” reaction we can only guess what he/she has been trained not to say.

 
 

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The Kids Are Alright

 

Wailing about kids today is a wholesome and robust tradition. Contrast and comparison is also a very effective way to understand one’s own self. “Parent Orientation!; my father slowed the car down when we got to campus!” when spoken out loud might expand one’s understanding of one’s own self-reliance. About two generations now have been grumbling and pontificating about the self-absorbed populace planted and sowed after 1980. Those in the earliest crop are now parenting themselves. Many born before 1980 or raised outside of the family-friendly entertainment industry/my child is an honor student/kindergarten graduation influence, find themselves wondering what will become of all these kids when they reach adulthood and discover there is no audience? Don’t worry; it’s not gonna happen.

No one grows up and enters their elder’s world anymore. In the 21st century our industry is ideas (via technology.) We are not building cities, roads and bridges. We are not harvesting national resources and building empires. Most of our cultural institutions and landmark buildings are just that; institutions and landmarks. There are not many young men and women going into the business of their parents’. Even if the ‘business’ goes by the same name, it probably looks quite different day-to-day. If dad went into his dad’s profession of banking, the work wouldn’t have varied that much. Sure dad would now be working with or for women, and maybe there would be no smoking, but the actual work; money in, profits out, wouldn’t have changed all that much. But by the time junior comes along the business is international and technology is king. Junior and his cohorts have never heard the term “banker’s hours” and if they did would assume it refers to 24/7. There are very few paths left where one could actually follow footsteps. Each generation now machetes their way through.

Nowhere is this more evident than in media and technology. Reality show proliferation doesn’t happen by accident. Dozens of channels specializing in ‘Queen for a Day” programming is calculated. It’s calculated by the television staff whose orientation to the world renders a “Look At Me!” premise totally plausible and laudable. It’s calculated by a television staff who also knows (or projects onto) its audience; “Who doesn’t want to be the center of attention?” And social media is not the result of a whole lot of leftover parts. Slowly but surely developers discovered that there was an insatiable appetite to ‘be seen.’ Certainly social media sites such as Facebook are a wonderful tool for connecting and reconnecting with friends. But it’s also an easy way to create a familiar and familial sense of importance. Status updates are filled with information that only a (helicopter) parent could possibly find interesting. Twitter is possibly one of the greatest ‘democratizer’ of our time; allowing for personal curation and access to previously unattainable information. But it’s also a way to type incessantly (and perhaps inanely) in the pursuit of attention.

Media and marketing have become so linked as to often be indistinguishable from one another. There is nothing surprising about this evolution. It is the natural by-product of generations who would not see a value in doing anything without an audience. All entertainment media now integrates Twitter and Facebook into their production. Try to even find a television program without a hash tag prompt on the lower left corner or a promo to “Like” the show on Facebook. Much of this marketing is relatively noninvasive and at times even informative. It’s nothing to shirk or even bemoan, but it is quite telling.

There are lots of real things to worry about. We can wring our hands over K-12 curriculum or childhood obesity. We can worry about higher education accessibility for our ‘best snack providers.” But we needn’t worry about how these kids will fare once the camcorders are turned off. As long as there are iPhones (or their yet to be born offspring) and mirrors, they’ll be just fine.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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