Whisper and our World of withering communications

We are creating little and saying even less.  

In the ways that we create content and communicate with each other, we are on a slippery slope – sliding from a place of relative depth and richness, down towards a trough of levity and brevity.

If you draw a line through history, starting with the lengthy discourses of the Homeric oral tradition, through the first hand written and mostly religious books, the evolution of the novel and then the production of news sheets and periodicals – the stuff we create nowadays is less considered in construction and very often shorter in manifestation.

Over time, the abbreviation of content creation has accelerated as it has become mainstream. Now that we are all publishers (abetted by digital tools) there are more people creating more stuff – but often without much consideration or indeed at any great length.

Simply put, as content creation has become easier and more popular, individual contributions have become briefer. We may communicate with more people, more frequently through digital channels, but we when we do so we are increasingly transmitting less information.

Not only is there less information involved, but also there are fewer real connections taking place. Prolific use of efficient but expedient tools such as email and texting, mean that we can connect quickly and simply but without any kind of rich interaction.

The rise of technology has also meant the subjugation of real world inter-personal skills for younger generations.  This trend is number 8, in JWT’s 100 Things to Watch in 2014 – Arrested IRL (In Real Life) Development: http://www.jwtintelligence.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/F_JWT_100-Things-to-Watch-in-2014_12.20.13.pdf

Examples of increased brevity are all around us. In the area of blogging, Twitter took the best bit – the title, and dispensed with the rest. As a result the blog as a popular form of communication is in trouble. This piece from last year – RIP the Blog: 1997 to 2013.  http://kottke.org/13/12/rip-the-blog

In addition – Social apps like Snapchat (deletes a sent picture after 10 seconds) Vine and Instagram Video, all encourage the creation of short form and transitory content.

Another example of seeking to communicate information swiftly is that of Glanceable UI , an approach being used by the dating App Tinder . Glanceable UI is defined as – creating something meaningful out of information processed in just a quick glance . Especially interesting and perturbing here, is that people are being asked to make major relationship decisions on very limited information. http://gigaom.com/2013/11/05/tinder-ceo-wants-use-glanceable-ui-to-create-meaningful-relationships/1997-2013

Brevity is apparent in the world of brand communications too; witness the increasing popularity of pictures over words – marketers are increasingly using a visual vocabulary as part of a ‘narrative arc’ that they are using to connect with consumers. This from JWT’s 100 Things to Watch in 2014 ‘Speaking Visually’ is number 84 – http://www.jwtintelligence.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/F_JWT_100-Things-to-Watch-in-2014_12.20.13.pdf

A big driver in this of course, is the impact of a faster paced world and associated information overload. We simply do not have the time (or perhaps think we have the time) to consume large chunks of content on a regular basis.

In this world of individual communications, the logical progression from brevity and paucity of information, is that towards anonymity – literally withholding the nature and identity of those involved in the process

Edward Snowden was runner up in Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 2013 behind Pope Francis http://poy.time.com , (although many thought he should have won) and the impact of his revelations about the NSA’s activities has had a profound effect on concerns regarding security and privacy

There seems to be a convergence of two trends here – the movement towards brevity and a lack of substance in the realm of content and communications, allied with an increased interest in digital privacy and security.

Whisper, an image based social network, which allows the anonymous posting of images, is a good example of this. http://whisper.sh

This trend towards secrecy is also nicely summarised in Frog Design’s Tech Trends for 2014 – Anonymity Will Go Mainstream – http://www.frogdesign.com/techtrends2014/

But this is not the whole story. There are examples of immersion in, and communication around, rich vertical streams of content – exemplified by viewer engagement and the social noise surrounding TV shows such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. This piece – Netflix’s War on Mass Culture: Binge viewing was just the Beginning; highlights this trend  – http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115687/netflixs-war-mass-culture

Ashley Friedlein’s (from Econsultancy) detailed report Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Trends for 2014, highlights trends towards short form and long form content – http://econsultancy.com/blog/64132-digital-marketing-and-ecommerce-trends-for-2014-by-econsultancy-ceo-ashley-friedlein :

Over 2013 and into 2014 the rush has been towards short-form content. Our Twitter-addled fifth- screening media-stacking attention cannot cope with more than about 30 seconds of video content or a paragraph of text.

In 2014  I predict a resurgence of long-form content – longer videos, in-depth articles, detailed research, and even digital marketing and ecommerce predictions that go beyond 30 pages. This does not mean short-form content is on the wane. What is happening is that content is polarising. It is either fast, topical, short, shareable, ephemeral (think Twitter, SnapChat etc); or it is curated, and aggregated, into a personalised media experience. 

What does not appear to work is something that is notably similar to a standard daily, or weekly, print magazine or newspaper article – neither quick enough, nor short enough, nor long enough, nor multimedia enough to please anyone. 

At one end of the spectrum we have content that disappears once you’ve sent it (Snapchat); at the other we have Longform which aggregates and curates long content…

I see the reality being a larger trend towards less substantial and more frequent modes of communication, and a smaller increase in engagement with deeper and richer content.

So, although brevity is not having everything it’s own way, and there are signs that richer and longer form content is battling back, the pattern of the recent past indicates that the force is with the shorter, and sometimes even anonymous, communication modes and styles.

It will be interesting to see where this all ends up, as it currently looks like we are moving inexorably towards a future of less considered content and fewer genuine, or real, connections.

Nick Hammond

The Digital Filter

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