Information is Cheap, Attention is Expensive

December 10th, 2011 — 10:53pm

We live in a world where we have way more information available to us that we could possible process. We are inundated by information options. We have to select from 100’s of channels on TV, tens of thousands of movie from Netflix, countless video games, Facebook and Twitter on our cell phone, millions of youTube videos, billboards on every corner, and the “dieing” media radio, newspapers, and books. Surrounded by a glut of information, be it for communication, learning, or entertainment, our attention is scarce.

The Beginning of Information and Communication

It was not always this way. At the start of civilization information existed in two simple formats. At the start of modern man knowledge was transferred by voice from the experienced. We learned at the pace of voice. We could gain no more knowledge than was available in the mind of the tribesman we lived with. We gained knowledge from our natural surrounding. We learned from observing the physical environment that we lived in. It could be argued that our brains were designed for this ecosystem, not the computer, mobile device and television that dominate our attention today.

Where We Are Today

For better or worse the knowledge gained by our elders has been supplanted for the most part by books, television, and the internet. Knowledge based on our surroundings has been reduced for the most part to rudimentary task such as driving, and leisure activities such as sports. We live in a world with numerous communication options and near inexhaustible entertainment options.

What We Have Gained

We are Never Bored

We are never bored because of lack of entertainment. Entertainment is in our pockets and on demand. We can now view media on our schedule, not the schedule of the networks.

Better Communication

One day recently I emailed a few people, IMed through AIM, posted to twitter, reblogged a Tumblr post, update my status and chatted on Facebook, sent a few texts, posted on a message board, called people on my cell phone, and took a few calls on my office phone. We can now communicate with one or many in ways that have never been easier.

What We Have Lost

While society is not going to look back, it is important to consider that cheap information, media and communication comes at a price.

With choice comes the need to choose

We have all stared at a ten-page menu in a restaurant unable to decide because there are too many options. At times we would prefer to just have a few options, so make the decisions earlier. The glut of information that exist at this time presents us with a dilemma of where should we focus our attention. We feel pulled in many directions at once. We cannot experience everything at once, so we have to make selections. The very act of making that decision makes us question whether we would be happier with one of the other options. An excess of options creates a dichotomy of emotions. At once we are excited by the prospects of watching all the movies in our Netflix queue, but move through it painfully slow because we can never catch up with our email.

Addicted to Stimulations

We are no longer to be satisfied without constant stimulation. In general we are stimulation addicted. We cannot sit on the train on the way home from work; we play games on our iphone or PSP. We do not sit on watch the sunset or listen to the bird chirp, because we still have 5 episodes of Lost to watch. We are less at peace with ourselves as we strive to absorb all of the information available to us. Because information is so plentiful we have allowed it to fill our every moment, so that we miss as little of it as possible.

Communication Overload

Many have reached the point of communication overload. Cell phones mean we can be reach anywhere, and we are now expected to respond to emails, texts or calls all the time.

Going Forward

The goal of this article is not to communicate how to fix these problems, but to merely identify that they exist. In the end technology should improve the quality of life of the individual and society as a whole. Each of us needs to find a way to interact with the technology available in a way that enhances our lives rather than burdens us.

Quality Design Requires Learning to Forget

June 7th, 2011 — 10:48pm

It is easy to forget that everyone may not see the world as you do. Of course we know that everyone is different, and people have different beliefs on religion and politics. However we forget that what separates us is not just perspective but knowledge. While an understanding of perspective is crucial to all markets and is given much focus in the branding process, knowledge base is just as crucial. As marketers we need to learn to forget what we know and place in our heads the knowledge of the audience to create effective messages.

In the creation of any website the goal is to create a story or an experience that will truly speak to your audience. As a part of creating the story we need to carefully craft an experience that meets the user at their knowledge level. We would not try to teach algebra to a first grader, nor would we try teaching multiplication tables to a college math major. In order to craft an effective message, we need to start by understanding what the knowledge collection of the audience is, so our message does not speak down or over them. That process starts by trying to forget what we know.

A crucial step in the branding and information design process is gathering an understanding of the website users. We need to understand the user’s knowledge base about the product/service, the company/organization, and the industry as a whole. Then it is essential to map how our knowledge differs from the end users. We can break the knowledge into three basic categories:

  • What we know about the product †.
  • What we know our customers know about the product.
  • What we do not know our customers know about the product.

In order to create a marketing message that truly speaks to an audience we cannot be biased by our knowledge. At the same time we have to get our clients to forget also. Together by pretending we do not know what we know, we can craft a message that truly speaks to the audience at the level they are at.

† By product we are referring to the brand, the organization/company, the industry, the product category, etc.

Knowledge in Our Pockets, Not in Our Heads

January 17th, 2011 — 10:46pm

The internet and more recently the mobile web on cell phones has changed the way we discuss information in conversations. When I was growing up information was stored in one of two ways; in books and in our heads. If we could not recall something we walked over to an encyclopedia or some other book, or talked to someone who would have that knowledge. The advent of the mobile web means that whether we are at home, out for dinner, walking through a park, or driving in a car the answer to almost any trivia question is just a few taps away.

What We Have Lost

What we have gained from this technology is clear, so I will focus the article on what I see as a loss.

This article started because of a sense of loss that comes with instantaneous knowledge. The ability to answer any question immediately sometimes limits conversations. While at first glance it is a great thing that we no longer have to endure two people argue about whether Jean Claude was really in “Breakin” for 30 minutes (yes he is dancing like a goofball in the background: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POXoJyNcLiI&feature=related) or not, there is something lost in the flow of these conversations when the answer is immediate. Not remembering something can lead to all kinds of fun forks in the conversation and are more organic or free flowing without someone pulling out a cell every time a bit of trivia is forgotten or questioned.

Mastery of knowledge is no longer as important. Since most things can be looked up in a few seconds, we no longer value mastering a set of knowledge in our heads. While this leaves us the time to focus more on critical thinking and less on memorization, there is a cost. Mastery of knowledge can lead to general understanding and insights that are simply not available without having the whole set of information already in our heads. Education will need to find a balance between teaching facts and critical thinking, because we need both to solve the greatest problems that face civilization today.

Internet in general and more recently the mobile web has also changed the way we relate to the knowledge masters in our life. Before the days of the internet, most of us had those in our lives we would reach out to to answer questions on various topics. If we had a question about who directed a movie, we would call our friend who is a movie buff. For a sports question, we would call the sports nut. The need for experts in our circle of friends is gone. Gone with it are the calls to ask a question that leads to meaningful conversations with that person. The relationship, loosely based on the knowledge a person has, is gone.

How Technology Changes Our Lives:

Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. These articles are a series of muses on how technological changes are benefiting and harming the wellbeing of the individual and society as a whole. To read more on from this series, follow the links below:

GPS: Getting Lost is a Thing of the Past

February 17th, 2010 — 10:44pm

With more and more cars installed with GPS and more and more cell phones GPS enabled, the days of getting lost on the roadways are close to nonexistent. While it will be a while before everyone has these devices, the days of fretting about getting around a new city and driving in circles while trying to get to your destination will soon be a thing of the past.

What We Have Gained

What We Have Lost

  • Our children will likely never know the stereotype of the dad who refuses to pull over to ask for directions because he is too stubborn to admit he is lost.
  • No more are the days you can say you’re late because you were lost. Thank goodness for traffic and construction!
  • Spontaneous discovery. With a GPS in hand it’s impossible to get lost trying to find a restaurant and be forced to eat elsewhere, only to discover a new favorite restaurant.
  • Sense of direction. It seems GPS users are quickly loosing their sense of direction or where they are in relation to landmarks.

How Technology Changes Our Lives:

Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. These articles are a series of muses on how technological changes are benefiting and harming the wellbeing of the individual and society as a whole. This is the first article in the series.

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