February 20, 2011

NPR Features News Acceleration, Our Ability to Consume It

Yesterday NPR Reporter Linton Weeks posted a interesting observational piece on the accelerating pace of news, from its discovery to a reaction - spurred forward not just by the 24 hour broadcast networks, but the parallel growth of social media, which sometimes plays the role of news starter, news observer or news distributor. (See: Media Black Hole: So Much News That We'll Implode?) His example of a congressman who resigned due to scandal before the public had even been aware of the scandal was an interesting one, not necessarily indicative of the trend, but smart politicking. That said, he correctly notes the trend of all these publishing places to be first, fastest and continuously on - often at the expense of quality and the viewers' ability to understand what has transpired.

Included in the piece were some comments from me, where I echoed some of my thoughts over the years on this blog and elsewhere, that people are choosing to select a few preferred sources over others to filter the news on their behalf, and often, they are checking out of the need to be fully informed and understand the facts behind the spin. It's a lot easier to turn off CNN and go play FarmVille, or to have Glenn Beck tell you the evils of Obama's legislation than to read it yourself, after all.

(See Also: from 2006 Blogging Bifurcation - A Web Divided)

This discussion plays well into the often-discussed debate of information overload or filter failure. As I share often when talking with partners of my6sense, quality of conversations on blogs and comments have decreased in exchange for lightweight tokens of appreciation - including retweets and likes. People move fast because they can, first of all, and second, because they fear they don't have the time to do more - that something else interesting is behind the next link, tweet or email.

Linton also asked me a different question, which wasn't carried in the piece. He asked:
"Will there come a time when we will want processors to do something slower – or at least appear to do something slower?"
To this, I said no. The solution is to not slow down the pace of media or our ability to consume it. The solution is instead, as I've often said,
"To help surface the best stuff for you as an individual, personalized based on your interests - so you see the best from all your streams and can skip the rest. A slow computer is the opposite of what we need. We need fast interpretation of streams and ranking."
Personalization based on one's interests doesn't mean buying into an echo chamber effect, but skimming off the noise that's unrelated. Smart systems will still find you trending news that you must see, even if you haven't given explicit signals of interest. But the way to survive in the world of faster distribution and decision making is to avoid getting caught in time-wasting triviality.

The news is faster. The ability to exist in an accelerated world, in my view, is as important or critical for the world of the future human as typing skills. If the data deluge is slowing you down, you need better tools or a new agenda.

Disclosure: I am VP of Marketing at my6sense, which makes tools to personalize the new world of streams.