Had a chat with a coworker of mine the other day. He had run across a book–or I should say had run across a blog post about a book. The book was about how the Internet (and some other present-trends) was leading us to become less intelligent. The book-to-blog summary described how people could glean a few surface details about a subject, digest them quickly and move on, thinking they knew enough about a subject.
Not unlike this blog–or blogging in general, I suppose.
And it got me thinking. At first, of course, as a champion of all things current and now, I grew a little defensive. I cited the arrival of the 24-hour news cycle and the obsession with the 7-second soundbite in our political spheres as equal measures of evidence toward such a shallowing of the pool of human thought. But I suppose the Internet and social media had its share of the blame for things. So I relented in my stance that finger-pointing should continue. Blogs vs. lazy journalism vs. business, etc.
Then yesterday I had the chance to meet with a veteran newsman–an Air Force public affairs chief master sergeant. Veteran in terms that he had pre-dated the official arrival of social network in our professional spheres–a feat most of us qualify for, as it’s only been less than a decade since journalism was more like the Fourth Estate of centuries past and not like the Bieber-entranced drool machines of late. Not “veteran” in terms of being old or any veiled insult that readers may imply while scanning over these words.
Veteran in that I respected his experience, and he, mine. We talked a bit about how the Web has made a lazy bunch out of many military journalists. How, apart from any undue shaking of fists at the arrival of the present, the past’s reliance on newspapers–replete with deadlines and gruff editors, forced writers to produce. And what’s more, to produce works people would wish to read. And in timely manners, no less.
This editor friend of mine talked in examples about how, when in times past, covering sports or certain VIP visits to bases, he would have to rush back and spend some evening hours to hammer out stories. And since these stories often HAD to appear in that week’s paper, there was often not time to parade versions and opinions around. The slightly-olden journalist had to get it right the first time. Thinking to now, some five-10 years later, he described how his staffs leisurely get around to posting stories occasionally. Since the Web is always there, things lose a sense of urgency. Also, since it was so easy to change content, my editor friend described what I’ve heard from a dozen other journalists as story “coordination”. In this lovely phenomenon, stories are emailed around to a small army of would-be critics, who quibble and gripe about every noun, phrase and piece of jargon–a kitchen full of chefs, cooking stew.
So many journalists, because of the time-intensive nature of coordination in military journalism, get around to maybe posting a story every week or so.
The point is, apart from the numbers, where people can argue and say they are better because they post more…
…the point is, the web may have cheapened our ability to produce and or think to the level we ought.
Military journalists often don’t have to think through their work because they realize a half-dozen writers are going to weigh in on their words anyway. So why try? Digital cameras let people “spray and pray” that a good photo comes out of a batch of 1,000, rather than carefully choosing when to let loose an exposure on a painfully short roll of film.
And the pundits, bloggers, writers…we can spout out a billion entries across a billion blogs every day, but to what end, eh? The person with the best 7-second soundbite wins anyway, because who has time to actually get to the meat of a thing? Who has time to think about the impact of words and sentiment?
I might end up buying that book. Seems to be worth looking into, rather than just spouting off a few ‘graphs and moving on.
The social media explosion is temporary—or at least I hope it is. As more people learn how to fish, there won’t be the need for people like me to toss halibut into the throng of open mouths—or at least I hope so.
Sometimes I do have pangs of doubt whether the current crop of policy makers and leaders will ever graduate beyond their current levels. Maybe the eventual evolution of the common body of knowledge will be due to the replacement of one generational talent pool for another. Maybe, eventually, I won’t have to explain Boolean search strategies to people, not because eventually people will understand the how-tos that people like me are putting out, but that they will be replaced by new blood or the programs themselves will evolve to make the Semantic Web a reality.
Maybe that’s always the way things work. Perhaps we all hit a certain wall when it comes to new ideas or approaches. While many can adapt and learn, maybe the majority of people reach some sort of innovation saturation? Could be. I know I hit a wall with math. Calculus. I gave up—went to philosophy and literature and never looked back. If the world was waiting for me to engineer a bridge somewhere, it was out of luck until they start putting a “build me a bridge” button on these graphic calculators.
Most of you are probably wondering what the hell I’m getting at. Fair enough.
Last week I got an email that highlights a type of email I routinely get. Now, before we continue, I am going to qualify all of this by removing any sense of elitism or a patronizing tone. If the points of this post are true, I too will fall victim to my own saturation of innovation where my mind will be unwilling or unable to further redefine its information-processing structures. So this isn’t a “old people don’t get it” post in the slightest.
Anyway, email. About a month ago I led a faculty bible study. It was on the passage of the Christian Scriptures where Jesus led his disciples to Caesarea Philippi and made the speech about “On this rock, I’ll build my church.” That whole thing. I opened up with a short side study, discussing how old the disciples probably were before moving on to the rest of things.
I talked about how I’d heard a bible teacher named Ray Van Der Laan give a pitch years ago, showing that the disciples were probably all teenagers. This was how old disciples usually were in the culture and time: teens. I meant it as a quick intro to the rest of the study, but people at the session were blown away.
“That makes sense!”
“I’ve always wondered about that.”
“I’ve never heard that before.”
“Where did you find that?”
“Where are your sources?”
“How can I read your information?”
I told them the Web. Google the teacher I’d mentioned. They went away astonished and paid little attention to the actual study….I guess I should have focused on the age thing.
About a week later, I was still getting emails, asking where to go and what Web site to look at. I had to tell them it wasn’t in one neat package, but the information was across several sites. Google was their friend. But that’s where I assumed people could find out information, and I started to think again on how some groups, no matter how many times you coach them through something, can’t figure things out.
Again, not an intelligence or age thing, but some people will never learn how to adapt to new technological environments. Some people just can’t get the concept of fishing.
This final email that set off this post arrived a few days ago.
“SSG Salmons, where did you get your information for that study last month? I’m giving a session and want to bring up the young disciple idea. Fascinating.”
I had to break it down. Google the teacher’s name “Ray Van Der Laan.” That would bring up every document he’s remotely associated with. By adding words after the name, you can further exclude irrelevant searches. Try adding the phrase “disciples were teenagers.” That should bring up the list of posts I had scanned through to refresh my sources.
A few minutes later…
“SSG Salmons, I don’t see anything.”
I typed in the search string. Then looked down the list. There they were, the articles I’d seen before. I picked out the first few, including the “teenage posse” one that had been the most helpful.
A few minutes later…
Our educational philosophy focuses on questions and answers. I think this has a tendency to lobotomize us to adaptation and innovation. We expect something to just work.
Car breaks? Someone fix it. “It won’t make a ‘vroooooooom!’ anymore!” Computer has an error? “My Yahoo! is broken!”
Classical education focuses on how to think. It’s not in the lists of facts that can be digested like a machine, but it’s about cultivating the character of a thinking person. In Rabbinic teaching, questions are answered by other questions.
“What is 6 + 4?” a teacher will ask.
“What is 5 x 2?” a student will respond. It shows that the student not only knows the answer, but can move the discussion further.
We don’t do that anymore, it’s all just quantifiable rote memorization and minimized thought. Ninety six percent? Great, “A+”. Ninety six credit hours? Great, bachelor’s degree.
So when a new paradigm like social media enters the fray and challenges us to redefine how we perceive and interact with social units, geographical and notional affiliations, or even data itself; many of us cannot figure it out. It’s me and Calculus. Ugh! My brain is teh hurts!
So, to help, guys like me who haven’t reached their innovation saturation levels, Google the term “social media training” and teach ourselves. A year later, I’m speaking at seminars, companies and governmental organizations throughout the world because I’m soooo knowledgable. If only people knew….
Granted, I know I can put on a good show, and I am genuinely flattered at the attention; but as we move forward, I do grow concerned that we’ll have to wait for many to retire or move on to get people in positions who haven’t become saturated.
And then, eventually (although “eventually” is happening faster and faster these days), I’ll hit my ceiling too. My processor won’t be able to handle the load. I’ll check out, and someone else will step in who can run two or three computers at once, type two letters simultaneously and watch seven movies concurrently with commenting on a quantum mechanics blog.
Meanwhile, I’m available to give training to you and your employees on how to effectively leverage social media trends in your workplace and on your external-facing communication initiatives to increase the effectiveness of your organization.
Hey there! I'm a former Army print journalist and DoD social media zealot. I spend my days in the public relations and marketing worlds, chatting about technology and working on fun side projects.
I write, dance and do most things.
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