My response to: “Kids these days don’t read anymore!”
This morning before the 140 Conference Detroit began, one of my colleagues asked the question if we are encouraging / creating / perpetuating smaller attention spans in culture with things like Twitter and conferences where each speaker only gets an alloted 5-15 minutes each.
There are a couple of different facets to this. Firstly, I feel like I’m a bad person to ask. I get ridiculously frustrated when lumped into a group with the rest of my generation and am labeled as “No one reads anymore! You can’t get those kids to pay attention to anything! You kids and your texting, you want everything now now now!” In my freshman year of high school I was reading books like Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” for fun. So, with that said, here are my thoughts.
Shorter speaking slots at conferences: I don’t think so. I mean, I suppose it depends on the personality and the type of conference. For the 140 Conference, I liked having the shorter time slots so that I could hear more of what’s happening. What I didn’t like is that many of the panels were reduced to verbal bullet points that offered little to no help. Especially if it’s something I’m interested in, I want to hear the full story. I want to hear the full lecture about how you came to believe a certain thing. I want to hear the full emotional implications and the nuances of big decisions. So, instead of “Take more risks”, I want to know why they decided to take that risk, how they proceeded, what the outcome was, and how they legitimately found a way to understand the difference between a really reckless decision and diving into a crazy adventure because you know you’re onto something even when everyone else tells you you’re out of your mind.
Twitter: Also I think it depends on the person. I love Twitter because it’s smaller chunks of information and I can process them faster. So instead of reading a 7-page article I can watch a hashtag and absorb about the same amount of information and have access to even more because of retweets, new users entering the steam and links to other resources. Twitter has been the most useful for me when watching live events. For example, the 140 conference, speeches by the President, and the Presbyterian Summit that was broadcasting online. But outside of that, when having actual conversations I usually crave more which usually prompts me to go after their blog, website, meet them in person, etc.
I think there’s a balance to be struck here. How we consume information is changing for sure, but I don’t think by using the vehicle of Twitter or shorter conference speaking slots are really the impetus of that. Perhaps it’s quantity; perhaps it’s not just Twitter, not just the conferences, but also Facebook, Foursquare, smarter phones, faster computers… It might be all of it. It also might be question of medium. For instance, the faster and better my electronics get, the more impatient with them I become. But I wouldn’t get mad at my professor for not giving us the entire lesson in 30 minutes instead of 2 hours because that just simply wouldn’t be practical.
There’s lots of different facets, lots of different cultural motions that are contributing to it, and I don’t think there’s one good answer. I also think it’s very difficult to see because we’re IN it. We’re not on the outside looking in, we’re not looking at a series of facts and events in a board room, we’re living social media, so it’s very hard to see exactly what is causing what. (It’s similar to asking me how exactly my sister grew up. I have no idea because I was around here every day.) I’m hoping the guy who is responsible for writing the electronic history textbooks in 50 years understands it better than I do!