Andy Serwer, the managing editor of Fortune magazine and a man I admire, recently wrote a piece in Fortune Magazine on the insane amounts of information and channels available (think Facebook/twitter/etc) calling it the end of blogging. I like Andy’s view and he made some great points, but I have another perspective.
This deluge of information and the continuing reduction of content to sound bites is not the end of blogging. It’s the end of critical thinking. It’s the beginning of an Attention Deficit Disorder pandemic.
If you are in the media business, like Andy, the increase of available information, the speed, and the number of channels delivering it is not necessarily a bad thing. “Swimming in the stream of data” (with apologies to William Gibson) allows you to see patterns and trends and report on them. Same if you are a strategic thinker looking for new markets, or a policy wonk looking long term strategies. But this is getting silly. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a Luddite and I do enjoy the occasional swim in the data stream, especially when I am engaging in a new project, hear of something that interest me, or I am approaching a new industry. On a personal level, I keep up with friends on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and occasionally blog to get my ideas out to a wider audience or just to vent. When building relationships with people, I will take more communication over less anytime.
But here is the dark side. When operating executives get caught in the riptide and can’t get out of the water (pardon the bad analogies) they eventually drown and take their companies with them. I call this “death by a thousand sound bites.” I am horrified when I work with executives looking for solutions to deep seated problems with their companies who find a complex multi-dimensional analysis reduced to a three page executive summary report “too long to read.” When the most amount of information an executive is interested in, or can absorb, is what can be contained on a PowerPoint slide, I cringe. Today’s operating executive relies on complex and interdependent systems and decisions have unintended consequences (think risk models for sub-prime loans). The "just-in-time" culture has increased efficiency, but also has introduced brittleness into our world. Not thinking critically about the information is suicidal.
It’s not that I like complexity. On the contrary, to paraphrase Einstein, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not less. It’s just sad when I see people reduce complex problems that require a well thought out solutions to a sound bite with no meaning or actionable information attached to it. They remind me of politicians who care more about sounding good than being good and who can’t solve any of the core problems we face in society today but can put a label on anything.