We finally succeeded as a culture at breaking down communication and human attention into fragmented gibberish. The product of billions of bite sized messages is a grand sucking sound of our cognitive ability swirling down the drain. Quiet contemplation has been ousted by mass consumption, gossip mongering, and trivial conjecture1.
I'm not suggesting our culture was a bastion of reason 20 years ago, nor am I condemning the democratization of publishing. Polarized interviews on television have been replaced by 30 second streaming clips. News editorials have been buried by status updates, and written correspondence is drowning in IM speak2. In our efforts to induce broad participation, we have failed to promote quality.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The minimalist design trend is finding its way to information consumption habits, based on personal consumption shifts (follow zero), a refreshing read by Bill Keller, and Dave Pinsen's weekends offline.
There is a need for less interruption and more significant knowledge transfer. If a startup doesn't kill 3 other startups that are distracting me or merge and filter multiple channels, then I'm not interested. I'm rooting for applications like KnowAbout.it, Eqentia, Flipboard, Feedly, Instapaper, and My6Sense to reduce the data volume and enhance the quality of information streams.
But there's a serious issue of handing over the reigns of quality filtering to third parties. By forgoing our ability to select content, we empower remote entities to act as our defacto bias. The same can be said of search algorithms, as they introduce a bias based on the company's proprietary algorithms outside of individual influence. I can change the inputs, but am unable to tune the algorithm. Do I trust third party services to maintain a balance of perspectives? No. They struggle to optimize revenue by providing the greatest value, at the cheapest cost, to the most people3. Not many web companies try to perfect quality for a handful of users, it's just not financially practical.
Going offline isn't a novel concept. Sensory Deprivation is the conscious reduction of input stimuli, and is an extreme form of information filtering. Years back as a kid, I'd leaned back with a float under my neck in the pool and allowed my ears to be covered by water with my eyes closed. It was an unforgettably soothing experience and calling it meditation would be an understatement. Preserving attention is an area ripe for disruption.
Sensory deprivation or perceptual isolation is the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses. Simple devices such as blindfolds or hoods and earmuffs can cut off sight and hearing respectively, while more complex devices can also cut off the sense of smell, touch, taste, thermoception (heat-sense), and 'gravity'. Sensory deprivation has been used in various alternative medicines and in psychological experiments (e.g., see Isolation tank).
Short-term sessions of sensory deprivation are described as relaxing and conducive to meditation, however, extended or forced sensory deprivation can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts and depression.
- Trivial pontification, as in this blog post ;)
- The smiling wink above, or a comment I witnessed on my wife's Facebook status not long back: "Yur not finished yet LOLOLLLL!! ?!?!??". I assume the additional question marks and exclamation impart a sense of shock, but they send a different signal to me
- Web companies push the boundaries of Pareto's principle, by achieving greater than 80% value for less than 20% of the resources of legacy companies, and monetizing with low priced subscriptions or ad revenue. This quality to cost ratio is good enough for significant client populations.