Technological clutter

23 May

We live in a world where we are bombarded with information; as the amount of information in our lives grows, our desire to absorb it all causes us to cut our depth of understanding in any one area. We simply don’t have the patience to read anything that doesn’t immediately catch, and retain, our interest. We don’t feel obligated to devote ourselves entirely to something electronic. I know I, for one, feel no guilt about abandoning an article online if I’ve read the lead, or even the headline, and lost interest. I know there is something more interesting awaiting me one click away. When I read a book, however, I feel compelled to follow through with the commitment I made by picking that book up; I’ll keep on reading even if I hate the story or the writing or the characters. There are no shortcuts to tell me what happens, no distractions to tempt me away.

So where does journalism fit in this world of clutter? Well, as it increasingly becomes a part of the electronic world, it becomes beholden to our electronic reading behavior. It’s so easy to click on an ad that catches our interest, spiriting us away from an article and information that may deeply affect our lives. We especially are likely to do this if an article is dense and complex. Click to the next page? I don’t think so. As we place more and more of a premium on entertainment and interaction, journalism that refuses to fulfill these roles will be replaced with other types of “clutter.” We don’t have to dumb down information in order to prevent it from getting lost amid internet clutter; we just need to be aware of how people interact with the online world and tailor our product to this behavior. Providing readers with the chance to interact with online journalism, like comment boxes and polls, and including a variety of features with each article, like charts and videos, will help. Chunking information and using systems like Twitter will make people more likely to pay attention to us. The best method for preserving journalism? Quality. We need to commit ourselves to producing the best content we can. We no longer command our readers’ undivided attention. If we want to keep them interested, we need to offer them a product so rich and absorbing that they forget the other clutter jostling for their time.

UPDATE This NY Times article totally drives home the point I make in this post. Multitasking = horrible for concentration.

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