As I drive down the highway, I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that I make it to work alive and (almost) on time. I think it’s nothing short of a miracle because when I’m not working with very smart people, I’m reading a lot of stupid crap on Twitter and Facebook… and watching a lot of stupid crap on television. If people drove their cars like they shared information, I think the average life expectancy of driving would be about 72 seconds.
The majority of data we spread is stupid.
I did it just the other day. I sent an email off to great friend and respected marketer Jascha Kaykas-Wolff at Mindjet pointing out some new data that said that Facebook social readers were crashing and burning. Of course, a little deeper look found that readership may be down, but engagement is up. And ultimately, it looks as though the issue may just be that poorly implemented social readers are dying, but great content is doing well. Jascha, thankfully, sent back that article.
When you’re driving a car, it’s pretty amazing all of the things we do to get where we’re going. We know where to start and where to finish, we observe the progress moving forward, we glance periodically in our rear view mirror, we check the side mirrors and even look out for our blind spot once in a while. We have two hands on the steering wheel, a foot applied to the brake or the gas… and sometimes another on the clutch. Wouldn’t it be great if we were that dextrous, cautious, inquisitive and responsive when we used information we discovered on the Internet?
Nope. We’re not. We see something that piques our interest – however stupid – and we just pass it on. Retweet. Share. Like. +1. Woohoo!
No less than once a week, I’m looking up something too good to be true on Snopes and emailing back the person that the crap he’s distributing isn’t true in the least sense (sorry Dad!). When people want to believe what’s in a clip of text, a soundbite, or a video – they never dig a little deeper, they just tweet it, post it, or email it to all of their friends. Stupidity may be distributed more efficiently on the information superhighway than anything of value.
Reality television is the epitome of this. If you’ve never seen the Charlie Brooker show on how reality television production works, it’s amazing (and horrifying):
Reality television is akin to how we dysfunctionally share information. We clip, copy, paste and publish. Sharing is too easy.
Even on the Internet, you’re reading a fictional story developed utilizing real-world clips of text, audio and video. Doing a shallow analysis on Facebook social readers is a great example. The original article may not have purposely misled people… but they happened across a sample of data that was a powerful display of information. It was pretty simple to write the story around the graphic. Thankfully, others dug a little deeper and identified some important findings beyond the original story. That doesn’t happen often enough, though.
We see these same mistakes every day with marketers. They neglect to look left, right, behind… nor do they know where they were, nor are they paying attention to where they are going. If you’re only focusing on where are, you could let a pothole thwart all your efforts because you detour around. What appears to be a terrible route may be the very solution you need to break through.
Of course, we see it even worse in politics. Every political ad is a soundbite taken out of context and reduced to some extreme position that’s easy to despise. Politicians depend on great editing. It’s unfortunate. Their audience deserves more.
In a world of snippets, screenshots and soundbites… it’s much easier to pass on stupidity than intelligence. It’s your job as a reader (even on this blog) to take a deeper look. It’s my job and responsibility as a blogger to look all directions before I encourage you to step on the gas or brake and detour. Journalists, bloggers, media outlets and even opinionated analysts need to get much more dextrous and begin using all their faculties to fully inform the public.
I’m just not optimistic there are too many around that can or are willing to accomplish that. Stupid is shared a lot easier. Don’t believe me? Try sharing a carefully written, intelligent post. Then post a funny cat picture. Which one performed better?