Thursday, April 8, 2010

Addicted to Refresh

We have a society that is addicted to the new. The fresh. The breaking. The hot. The up-to-the-minute. The short-term. The quarterly. The weekend gross. The day's closing price. The firehose of what's next. The refresh button.

Is this necessarily bad? What's so wrong with staying on top of things? Doesn't that show a desire to be informed, to have knowledge of the latest developments? 

These are the excuses I tell myself when I can't focus long enough on the deep dive tasks I know I want to accomplish, but never seem to get around to when facebook and my RSS feeds are peeking around the corner. They are how, when I have enough distance and quiet, I know that I'm an addict. Nothing too major, but still not something that I'm happy about.

But it does present a particularly nasty problem. If I'm not receiving a consistent and high quality feed of information on topics of importance, I'm significantly less likely to be well grounded and capable of thinking critically on these subjects. It takes quite a bit of gumption for me to go digging when cheap and easy distraction abounds. 

Modern Public Relations professionals know this proclivity, and they exploit it to their significant advantage. Releasing negative information late in the day on Friday is an age-old example, but there are plenty of other effective tactics that allow for the sophisticated manipulation and control of the public narrative. It often seems that without a continuously developing story that has front page staying power, anything else can be played down and eventually swept under the rug. 

I thought about this regularly during the most recent Bush presidency. So many revelations of abuse of power seemed to lack persistence, and for that matter, perspective. Ironically, scandal fatigue seemed to set in at the major media outlets; justified outrage at the government's actions was never quite as large in proportion to the original acts. Eventually the bad behavior became old hat, and coverage just seemed bored with the extra-Constitutional acts of our elected officials. Instead, it was replaced with the latest disposable scandal that was constantly in motion, Britney, Lindsey, and all their ilk.

The question is: if this is a problem, how do we solve it? I have some ideas, and I'll try to share some of them here soon.

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