By Ken Jalleh Jr
When today’s story becomes tomorrow’s history, will there be anyone left with the patience, the curiosity, indeed the inclination to read it?
Going by today’s audience of scanners (print), skimmers (online) and scrollers (smartphones), they are likely to be in the minority; perhaps the passionate historian, or the scholar duty-bound to research it.
Or the AI-enabled goldfish.
Content creators, brace yourselves for consumption Alamakgeddon!
Attention spans are shrinking (duh). Eyeballs are becoming increasingly dazed and distracted, disinclined to depth, seduced by sensation and dazzle (doh!).
Will the readers and writers among us soon be overwhelmed by a tsunami of zombies drawn only to drivel, the trivial, the viral?
Or, as the impatient, impertinent smartphone brat would say, “Are we there yet?”
Microsoft’s 2015 study of 2,000 Canadian media consumers suggests that if you’ve followed me this far, congratulations, you’re better than a goldfish.
The People v Goldfish score on attention span is: People 8secs; bug-eyed, bloated tank-dweller 9secs.
Will history have to be told in warp speed? Or chip implants? A single listicle with clickbait (prefaced by: You won’t believe this!… This crashed the Internet!… Everyone’s talking about this!…Twitter is in flames…)?
Or will the tome of today’s Trumpian dystopia and socio-economic disruption be encapsulated in a single emoji?
Of course, I’m being facetious 🙄.
I’ve spent more than three decades as a journalist striving to comprehend, compel and inform the morphous multitude. And I’ve seen and felt the seismic shift in content consumption from depth, detail and intelligent discourse, to superficiality.
Yet literary windbags, flatulent pontificators and self-important scribes continue to labour under the illusion that what they write will be read.
They will soon find themselves in a great funk.
I, too, was once funked – until I decided to go with the flow. That flow into the future is visual, which is why I’ve evolved from hardcore journalist to visual evangelist (more sermons on visuals later, my uncharacteristically attentive child).
Don’t get me wrong. There is still hope for the written word – if, as we say in the newsroom, we keep it tight, bright and right.
The late author and Pulitzer winner Charles Krauthammer once observed that “the most powerful and universal laws of nature – Newton’s third (action-reaction) or Einstein’s e=mc2 – are breathtakingly compact and elegant”.
A gnarly sports editor from Fleet Street often berated my loosely-crafted purple prose by declaring that World War II could have been reported in three paragraphs: Who won, who lost, how many died.
So here’s the buried lead: Find beauty in brevity, feel delight in simplicity. Or: Keep it Short, Stupid.
More than ever, such simple newsroom “Strunk and White” aphorisms are vital to incentivise the inattentive, the bochap (not bothered), the bo-eng (time-starved).
“Vigorous writing is concise,” writes William Strunk in his classic, Elements of Style. “This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short… but that every word tell.”
So, please, say it succinctly, because I want it quickly, clearly.
It irks me when I’m confronted by a grey broadsheet page, blog or website of self-indulgent prose posing as analysis (we used to call them columns).
It pains me when I have to sit through PowerPoint slides too wordy to digest in a wink.
If this old fogey is so like that, what more the smartphone brat?
Ken Jalleh Jr is Editorial Director of Sweet Brand Newsroom and Head of Govt/Policy Content. He has been a journalist for almost 40 years.