From the day I discovered him, I’ve admired Chris Brogan. He figured out early on how to use the power of social media to grow a business, and he has been generous in teaching others to do so. In the process, he became both famous and successful.
Last week, he published a blog post about the undeniable influence USA Today has had since it began publishing in the early 1980s. Its short articles, eye-catching graphics and extensive use of lists have radically changed the way we consume information. In our round-the-clock, always-on world, we want a factoid here, a listicle there, and an occasional cat video to make us smile.
Chris was encouraging people, if they haven’t done so already, to master the art of bite-sized media. There’s no turning back, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with this. I hope.
I have to admit I’m more than a little concerned about what we might be doing to our brains and our ability to concentrate and work through complex issues and problems. Will our children and grandchildren be able to muster the concentration needed to write a legal argument, solve a chemical engineering problem, or figure out how to send people to Mars?
The skills to do these things are, of course, learned in bite-sized units. They’re called lessons, and they help us build complex skills one step at a time. At some point, though, the lessons have to be combined, synthesized and applied to complex problems. That takes concentration and working for more than five or 10 minutes at a time.
I was having a conversation recently with a young colleague, and he asked me to tell him more about my public relations business. I told him the assignments that pay the bills involve writing speeches and position papers for corporate clients.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re a long-form writer.”
The truth is, nothing I write rivals War and Peace for word count. To my young friend, I suppose, anything more than 140 characters might be “long form.” It made me wonder whether writing is still considered to be the bedrock skill for being an effective public relations practitioner.
I believe any youngster who can be trained to move beyond the world of bite-sized media will have a great advantage in tomorrow’s careers. Do whatever you can to teach the young people in your life the ability to concentrate for extended stretches of time.
So, what do you think? Are you concerned that we’re throwing away our ability to be complex thinkers? Did you get far enough into this to answer? Let me know!