Thursday, 4 February 2010

Blogging the Blog 10: The Demand For Brevity

Given what I have written recently about running out of steam in terms of blogging, I was interested to read on the BBC website: that interest in blogging among teenagers, aged 12-17, has halved from 2006 with only 14% involved in keeping blogs, though among people aged 30+ it rose from 7% in 2007 to 11% now.  To some degree this is no surprise, young people like to 'own' the technology they use and are resentful when others such as their schools, colleges or other public bodies let alone people like politicians beginning trying to use the facilities to try to get their message across.  Once adults are involved it stops being 'cool'.  This may be why young people have not engaged with Twitter which with its brief often text message style communication would appear to be suited to them.  However, who is the most renowned Twitter user in the UK?  Though many pop stars and DJs use it, the figurehead here is Stephen Fry, a gay actor, presenter, writer and raconteur aged 52.  In fact if you search for Stephen Fry on Google, the most popular suffix to his name is 'Twitter'.

There is another reason which, I feel discourages young people from both blogging and Twitter and that is because it needs commitment.  It is far easier, for example, to post an odd mood statement once in a while or upload some photos or link to a YouTube clip from a Facebook page once in a while.  Online friends may be concerned if you do not add anything for a while, but the core of the page with your picture, interests, etc. remains whatever you do.  Conversely, campaigns, for example about the 'A' level biology exams, are now based on Facebook or MySpace groups rather than someone blogging their grievance.  These things come and go rather than continuing for months.  So what is enduring at present are things you do not have to keep doing but can engage and disengage from at will.

For a blog, if you do not see a posting in the past month, you tend to assume the site is dead and you look somewhere else.  Of course, even aged blogs can be useful and I often find postings about things from a few years back there, but in terms of speaking about the individual behind the blog and what interests them, then a stagnant blog is not useful.  Blogging is like keeping an old fashioned diary and while some people do that many people who start one have given up by March, so lasting about as long as the average blog.  Perhaps one reason why I am still blogging is because I have kept a diary every day for the past 32 years anyway, some of it has formed the basis of postings here.  Blog implies chronology.  The word comes from 'web log' and a log is something like captains of ships keep noting day by day activity.  If nothing is reported it is at least moribund if not dead.

One explanation in the BBC article about the reason for the decline of blogging among the young is the ability to give 'status updates' much more easily, and this is what they term 'micro blogging', though, really that is a misnomer, because no log is kept, it is replaced by a difference status indicator.  Another explanation is that blogging is seen as too involved as you have to string some paragraphs together and that is seen as too burdensome.  This, I feel ties into a development which I have began to experience, especially at work.

In my company, some senior staff see even a single panel of an email screen of text as 'too much' and I get complaints about 'lengthy' emails.  The trouble is often issues are more complex than a couple of paragraphs.  Especially as I have experienced using individual words from emails back against me, taking them out of context, I now take a great deal of care with what I write.  I was told I needed more modal verbs, like 'could', 'would', 'should' and to make phrasing more ambivalent rather than certain.  Yet the demand for short email messages cuts against this.  Email is a terse form of communication and now we are being pressed to make it epigrammatic.  Haiku is a difficult skill that most of us cannot pull off.  The hazard of summarising things for Powerpoint slides, which only really comfortably hold four points, has long been identified for contributing to the explosion of the space shuttle 'Columbia' in 2003 as it meant that in presentations minor, but vital technical issues could not be commuicated to the necessary audiences.

The assumption that all ideas can be contained within a particular length of communication is a dangerous one, as is the assumption that 'long' automatically means 'bad' or 'inefficient', especially as no other information about what was wrong or superfluous in the email is given; the length itself is now an offence no matter what content it touches on.  I have pointed out that mine only have multiple paragraphs when dealing with complex issues; many conversely are only a single sentence or even just a clause.  People seem, also to forget, that emails are a record and ironically those people who whine about long emails seem the ones most likely to send you reminder emails about what they sent you last week even when you have it.  I know as a society we have a shorter attention span than people of the past (fancy attending a 2-hour speech by a politician as in Gladstone's day anyone?) but there need to be limits as to how far we try to force communication into being as brief as possible.  While none of us want turgid lengthy text, we also need to see that a thorough exposition of an issue, especially ones seeking a decision in business, is vital and not to discourage them simply because it is not the fashion.

1 comment:

Rooksmoor said...

I just found there is a link from Talis Kimberley's website here interestingly this blog is stated as being 'A blog with an eye on the political climate' which is nice. See: