Tell Me a Story

June 5, 2010
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I recently appeared on the New York Times’ Tech Talk podcast, answering a number of questions about emerging technologies. Now, all of these questions were squarely in my sweet spot. No one asked me to name the most famous 17th century French Philosopher. But there was one question that gave me more pause than the rest:

What’s been the biggest change in technology over the last five years?

Wow. So many technologies and developments, and I had to choose one. After some reflection, I went with “the massive explosion of content–legal and otherwise.”

In other words, there’s just so much content and information out there that it’s often hard to determine what you need to be consuming. For more on this, check out my friend Jim Harris’ excellent post on filter failure and cognitive load.

What’s more, this trend shows no signs of abating. If anything, we’re going to see even more content in the foreseeable future, especially given the announcement that self-publishing is moving directly to Kindles and iPads. I’ll be you $100 that Andrew Keen must be cringing over that one.

Filter Failure vs. Information Overload

Some have called this phenomenon information overload. .

Link to original post.

Photo from Linda Cronin

I recently appeared on the New York Times’ Tech Talk podcast, answering a number of questions about emerging technologies. Now, all of these questions were squarely in my sweet spot. No one asked me to name the most famous 17th century French Philosopher. But there was one question that gave me more pause than the rest:

What’s been the biggest change in technology over the last five years?

Wow. So many technologies and developments, and I had to choose one. After some reflection, I went with “the massive explosion of content–legal and otherwise.”

In other words, there’s just so much content and information out there that it’s often hard to determine what you need to be consuming. For more on this, check out my friend Jim Harris’ excellent post on filter failure and cognitive load.

What’s more, this trend shows no signs of abating. If anything, we’re going to see even more content in the foreseeable future, especially given the announcement that self-publishing is moving directly to Kindles and iPads. I’ll be you $100 that Andrew Keen must be cringing over that one.

Filter Failure vs. Information Overload

Some have called this phenomenon information overload. Not Clay Shirky. In a recent talk, he explains:

What we’re dealing with now is not the problem of information overload, because we’re always dealing (and always have been dealing) with information overload…Thinking about information overload isn’t accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure is.

So, is Shirky right? I honestly have no idea. To quote Louis Armstrong, “You like potato and I like potahto.”

I can only speak for myself. I like to think that I have pretty good filters. I only subscribe to and read the blogs that interest me. I’ll quickly put down a book that doesn’t do it for me. I no longer finish every one that I start. I’ll walk out of a movie even if I paid $13 to get in.

Simon Says: It’s All About Stories

How do I choose what to read–or keep reading? In a word, stories. My favorite writers are the ones that draw me in with interesting narratives, making their points without being preachy. Think Malcolm Gladwell. Would Outliers, for example, be as popular if Gladwell cited dry statistics about how success hinges just as much on luck as skill? No. But reading about how Bill Gates slaved away at terminals when computers were rare sticks with you  more than dry prose about the importance of hard work.

To me, this seems obvious but this is hardly universal. For example, I recent picked up a short IT book devoid of case studies, stories, and examples. There was nothing wrong with the content and the author actually wrote solid prose in a welcoming style. But I couldn’t get through the book. I can only read so many pages of truisms and recommendations. After 60 pages, I thumbed through the remaining chapters, looking for anecdotes. I couldn’t find any and put the book down, probably for good.

In my own articles, posts, and books, I try to tell stories that convey larger points and messages. At least in the non-fiction world, I believe that it’s the best way to communicate, retain reader interest, and rise about today’s din.

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