This past week our dear chief editor at tech.eu shared with us a very interesting piece on The Guardian about digital distractions and our attention spans. Stuart Jeffries makes a very compelling argument about how this might not be true. He explores the rise of the long novels like The Goldfinch or A Dance with dragons, long story TV shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad or The Sopranos and the current trend towards long format or narratives in traditional media like The New York Times or The Washington Post.
Part of his thesis rests on the assumption that people are getting tired of micro formats, hyper fragmentation or simply put, superficial short descriptive pieces. I personally have to concur that we’ve seen an increase of short pieces, information blobs that are easily scanned through and digest in seconds, apt for our current social media consumption habits. As retaliation, the audience is leaning towards these long pieces, narratives or long story formats as a way to seek refuge from the ephemeral nature of the current content. According to Mr. Jeffries, the rise of such formats are a consequence of this newly found appetite by the audience.
I miss the insightful analysis, don’t get me wrong, I miss the in-depth articles and of course the multidimensional story lines that we used to experienced decades ago. I feel myself seeking more insightful information all the time, and while I agree with people looking for smarter content, I don’t believe the rise of such formats is due to such fact.
I would argue that what we’re currently experiencing is a lack of filtering abilities. We’re swinging between superficial, one paragraph long posts, all the way to gigantic pieces that span several thousand words. It requires a similar lack of skills to write a short insubstantial post to one that’s massive. I’ll be the first one to admit I’m personally guilty of the second one, but what I believe we’re losing is, the ability to focus and synthesize information. It takes time and analysis to go beyond the obvious but not to overextend yourself too much that you dump your entire brain on paper.
The fact that it’s a trend now to write narratives doesn’t means it’s a good thing either, but perhaps another representation of the same illness, a lack of focus and concentration. The best stories aren’t the longest, but the ones that have been worked out.
I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead – Mark Twain
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