According to the latest empirical studies, I can write what I want after the first 160 characters of this message because no one has an attention span longer than……well that is of course not true but maybe in a couple of months it will become reality. The medium Internet as well as the use of mobile phones have a strong effect on how we communicate and therefore they determine different things of our behavior such as our attention span. One indicator will be discovered by just watching how people browse the Internet. A lot of different tabs are opened and they click true this tabs as they were swerving with their car thru the heavy traffic of the streets in Manila or New York, whatever fits better to your imagination. Watching them not staying longer on the tabs as a couple of seconds or sometimes a minute already gives us an idea about their attention span .. and that in some years from now these people might not be able anymore to read a book. Ever.
What are the technologies we are using?
Twitter. Twitter is strictly limited to 140 characters. It can include a link but because it is meant to just briefly give a statement or update, I am not sure how many people really click on the link or if they just read the tweets.
Facebook. Walls posts and status updates are not very long. I would say between 100 and 300 characters in average. If you add a link, the title of that article and some information, a teaser, will already been shown. Only if that is convincing you might click the link to read a full article.
Blogs. Blogs contain more characters. However, compared to real news articles they are – most of the time – shorter. Can be read in maybe 1 – 5 minutes. Concluding other articles and news as already digested. Comparing blogs to former sources of news also reveals that they got shorter.
Text message. Text messages on the phone are limited to 160 characters. Even though you are able to – depending on the phone you are using – just add text messages by continue writing, the number 160 is shown in the display and is in the minds of the people. Abbreviated words have been a subsequent development of trying to stay within the 160 characters limit and not having to pay for more text messages.
Marshall McLuhan once wrote: ‘the Medium is the Message’. So what do this medium and the recent development tell us about the message?
It tells us that we do not want to spent a lot of time to figure something out. If we read something it has to be already digested so that within a very short time we can absorb it. Unfortunately, this means that we do not really questions what we read because therefore we just lack the time and the unmediated background information.
It tells us that we are always in a hurry. We do not want to take time to thoroughly read or write about something. A short notice about what we are doing, a 140 chars update on what happens at the conference and we are done. It not only has to be on time, in real-time, but also to be fast so that we can do other things.
At some point it might tell us that we are not able anymore to digest heavy information such as a book or an entire newspaper. Our attention might be so adjusted to the maximum of 500 characters that everything exceeding it is not covered by our ability to critically think and digest things anymore. The implications for PR amongst other things are obvious.
The message is: ‘quick and dirty is en vogue’. The message also is: ‘quick and dirty is all we can’.