There was a great set of commercials on the air a while back about search overload, as part of an ad campaign for Microsoft‘s search engine bing.
This new-fangled thing called the internet didn’t start the information revolution, but it did accelerate it. The web is constantly peppering us with content and information; even consumers who don’t have the internet are being assaulted with more content than before in traditional media thanks to the internet’s ability to make new information rapidly accessible. It may even be causing our brains to evolve toward smaller attention spans and less social skills.
In the great river of information that’s rushing rapidly, carrying with it fish, moss, rocks, messages in bottles, boats, and debris, we as writers stand in the center, carefully folding our own origami boats and setting them down gently in the waters, hoping that as they get swept downstream, that the people standing by will take notice at their craftsmanship and marvel.
Sometimes, we are that lucky. Someone catches the eye of our little craft, admires it, and then passes the word on, and soon everyone downstream is chatting and pointing at our precious boat.
More often, our little boat gets lost among the weeds and garbage, or gets hidden among the flotsam, or is dwarfed by a much showier boat bedazzled with gems and other bright displays to draw attention its way.
Let me give you an example: a colleague of mine recently covered a day long event. He spent the entire day there – 9 am to 5 pm – and watched the entire event, took notes, talked to people, and did his best as an independent journalist to cover the event. A reporter from a “big name” site dropped in late, stayed for less than half the time, and left. My colleague posted his report the day afterward, did his best to spread the word about his report on the event, and got decent traffic to his article. A few days later – after the “news” timeframe had passed – the other reporter made a sloppier report and got ten times the traffic, simply because of his venue.
It can leave a writer distressed to watch their work float on by with little recognition, especially when there’s money involved. To remedy the “attention” problem, we’re often encouraged as writers to create more origami to throw in the stream: social networking, they call it. By throwing out links to our content on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Mixx, (and so the list goes on endlessly), we should get more traffic because we make people more aware of it. But this, too, is a situation of sensory overload: thousands and thousands of these links go through these special media pages every day. It’s only a very small filter that still leaves our content wanting.
What’s the solution? Right now, there isn’t one. The world is still adapting to the overflow; old and new media journalism is fussing over itself and sometimes fighting in the current. First-time novelists with world changing ideas, trying to get noticed in the stream of what’s “hot,” turn to self-publishing, only to find that the world hasn’t accepted them there, either.
In the meantime, what new ideas can we come up with to adapt to the information revolution?