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Monday, December 15, 2014

Discontent With Overload Of Decentralized Content


The New York Times recently cited a 2011 study that claimed in a typical day, the average American consumes the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of information—five times what we did in 1986. Further, it noted that in 2003 we watched an average of five hours of television per day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day. For every hour of video viewed on YouTube, 6000 more hours of new video is posted. We are in content overload. More information is available to us than in any point in human history, but one could argue we are not the smartest generation. We are rabid consumers of text, songs, and videos, but society is not necessarily better for it. Why not?

1.      Too many voices compete to be heard, so we run the chance of not listening-seeing-reading the truly worthy ones.

2.      There’s no librarian to give us guidance—all information is coming at a blinding speed from all kinds of sources. We don’t know who to trust or what to believe.

3.      We are exposed to unimportant information, including factless opinions or time-wasting musings, instead of taking in more important or useful information. It’s as if gossip and entertainment and venting have replaced news, facts, and resourceful information.

The book industry is just as guilty for producing so many books of useless content. Subpar quality clutters our mind and bookstore shelves. How is anyone supposed to discover the gems in an ocean of mediocrity?

Of course there are some great finds out there—some terrific TV shows, films, music albums, and books—as well as newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites. But who has the time to download and digest this stuff—and how do we know we chose wisely and got to select based on informed choices?

Information and entertainment can burden us the way one gets overwhelmed at consuming an all you-can-eat buffet. There is such a thing as having too much of a good thing.

But how do we catalog, review, and filter all of this content? How do we consume content wisely? It seems we need to share some common ground – points of reference that everyone can relate to. Just as we need a shared curriculum in school, we need a shared history. It doesn’t mean we all have to read, listen to and watch the same thing all the time – but we should, to a degree, some of the time. Without a focus on how content is shared, consumed and influencing society, we run the risk of being a fractured and  scattered grouping of mini-tribes, each with its own sense of what the world is about.

Everyone wants to be heard and seemingly has something to say. Maybe that’s where books shine best. Books can reflect lots of research, based on the author’s consumption of content. The book they pen becomes a mini filter or librarian. But all of the books will need a reliable source to guide readers to them.

On the one hand, America doesn’t want gatekeepers, censors, or Big Brother to tell us what we can consume and what we can’t. On the other hand, even dictators serve a purpose in that they organize and streamline factions. What we need is a fair-minded, intelligent, and open source that can classify or rate all content in a way that people can universally understand and come to rely on.

What’s missing online is a majority. Years ago when three networks controlled TV, you also had a few local, independent stations in each city. That was it. TV had channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 in NYC until the 1980s. Then pay channels like HBO slowly came to be. Then cable. Then streaming TV, where anything online created by anyone can air anywhere at any time. 

Life wasn’t best with just a few TV shows nor is it best when we have everything available to us without a system to discover, rank and review it. We need an agreed upon common majority, where we can have a mass shared experience. But we also need a healthy minority—other outlets that fill our needs for diversity, to counter norms, and experimentation. But then we need to distance ourselves from the minor leagues, from the overload of content that is either just not good/useful or not yet as good or useful as the other content that becomes elevated.

Without a somewhat common point of reference for the content consumed in the U.S., we lose our ability for moments of shared values, ideas and lessons. We lack common experiences. True, we don’t all have to do the same thing at the same time all the time, but we need some things to be experienced by the community, otherwise what holds us together? We can’t have 320 million different languages, currencies, histories, and curriculums. We need a common content experience, to some degree, that allows us to deviate and personalize but not to the point we live isolated, individualized lives that become unrecognizable or unrelatable to one another.

Free-flowing ideas are valued greatly but if some of that flow isn’t filtered, catalogued or curtailed, we’ll be flooded in ideas and drowning in content. One can’t eat six desserts at once.

Can Google figure all of this out—or Amazon, Facebook, Twitter—or any existing technology company? How do we have the best of both worlds—rich content to choose from AND the ability to make knowledgeable choices? How can we figure out how to best use our time and money when it comes to all of the content out there? How does society ensure we experience the same certain things in a significant way while leaving freedom to choose from a diverse selection to balance out the time we consume personalized content?

We’ll have to continue this dialogue again.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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