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In the olden days of the newspaper business, not so long ago, newspapers sold advertising and the reporters wrote to fill the spaces left over. Because it was difficult to determine the exact size of the hole the story would fill, writers were required to write so that the piece could be chopped at any point and still convey the most important points. Phototypesetting machines turned out long strips of paper called galleys. These paper strips were waxed and pasted-up on a large sheet of paper the size of the newspaper page with a grid printed on it. This grid sheet caused the galley of text to flow around the advertising. When the space was filled, the galley was chopped with a razor blade. Many readers actually read the entire paper in those days.
While advertising still drives the space for content, the way newspapers are read has somewhat changed, thanks to the Internet. Most people today are immersed in an overwhelming sea of various types of information from numerous sources. It is not humanly possible to keep up. E-mail alone can occupy a large portion of reading time. The result of this information overload is that we have become a society of scanners and skimmers. Worried that we might miss something important, we scan the newspaper, or any other information source, for what might be important. When we think we have found something, we skim it.
Scanning and skimming is not new; however it has become an essential skill. If we cultivate this skill, we can learn to spot important information, such as medically-related, and gain necessary time to be able to read it properly. An important aspect of life in the information age is the amount of noise. Noise is considered the not important information that vies for our attention. Remove it and what is left is considered the signal, or main message that is important to you.
Today, instead of in-depth content, we find space-constricted print and click-driven eContent. As printing becomes more expensive and an environmental concern, more content is migrating to the Internet, combined with other media. Take a look around at online content. Much of it is spread among many pages. Advertising costs in print are based on the portion of a page consumed and the position in the publication. In the online world, advertisers pay for clicks. A page with shorter content costs the same as a long page of content. Splitting the content up can generate more clicks and thus more revenue for the publication. While a long page is harder to read, the extra click can mean the loss of the reader, if they decide they have read enough.
We are an attention-split society. This ball we call Earth is becoming like a giant brain with expanding networks of neurones. It overwhelms us with information as our attention span keep shrinking. Young people find they must do several things at once in a desperate attempt to keep up. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the millennial generation is spending 18 cumulative hours a day on media.
My kids gave up on E-mail years ago. We were told to use texting if we wanted to communicate with them. Text is an on-going short conversation that slips away. There is a sense among many youth that nothing is important or has value. Having to deal with an E-mail inbox that keeps filling up requires too much time.
What does all this mean for Christians? According to the Barna Group, a Christian research organization, ‘…while the Church is often accused of being several steps behind the culture at large, Barna’s research shows practicing Christians want to keep up with culture and trends just as much as anyone else…’ They continue with ‘…people want to be culturally informed, but they are becoming accustomed to skimming content.’ Yet in today’s 24-hour news cycle, “keeping up” can be hard work. The socialization of news has created an international, ongoing conversation that never sleeps.’
We need to become the editor for our lives. Armed with our virtual razor blade, we need to chop the galleys of endless text and other media that we don’t need to read—think noise. I admit that I have to develop my skills. Like any skill, it takes a concerted effort to develop. I encourage you to join me in focusing on skimming media carefully and then scanning contents for the message. Say no to noise and yes to the Message.
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September 2014 (2014-08-26)