The Shallows

Started reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows on a flight out to San Francisco last week, and was pretty drawn to his argument.  He claims that using the Internet is actually changing our brains, making us respond to short-form broadband stimulation rather than long-form contemplative “deep reading” (his term; a good one).

It gibes with a lot I’m seeing. First of all, he observes at the beginning that he and his friends have seemingly lost the ability to read books, or at least have had the ability diminished.  True here.  I wallow in “short-form” reading all day, but it’s almost not reading anymore, it’s flitting from link to link in order to form a quick “gist” of things.  It’s a new form of intellectual interaction, well-suited to the Web.  All arguments Carr makes.

I had noticed the atomization of content on the web.  As bits industries are disintermediated (see my post on that here) the length of the information artifact gets smaller.  Albums get replaced by songs get replaced by ring tones.  Features get replaced by stories get replaced by blog postings.  Movies get replaced by episodes get replaced by snack videos.  This atomization of course supports Carr’s thesis: it’s optimized for info-grazing.

What’ll happen to the world of long-form thought?  I argue that “Morlocks” — the scientific, technical, and clerical managers who actually run stuff — will still have to read and write and think “long form”, because complex technical and other systems need extended thinking to work properly.  But maybe I’m just trying to salvage a bit of the Enlightenment.  Maybe it can all be done with some kind of intellectual MapReduce: simple operations performed in parallel over a huge set.  Maybe that’s the wave of the future.

What do you think?


What’s Hot in a Flat World

I gave a talk by this title to a terrific audience in Atlanta yesterday.  Sharp, relevant questions, laughed when they should have and didn’t laugh when they shouldn’t have.  Not that a bunch of slides speak for themselves, but happy to send you the pdf of the slides if you ping me.  Also, @jacquichew was very diligent (and kind) in tweeting regularly during the talk, so catch her on Twitter (sorry, still learning how to link to Twitter in a post like this) if you’re curious.

Audience is King

It’s been growing on me slowly, but in the last couple of months I’ve a “duh” (or maybe a “doh”) moment: it’s not content that’s king online, it’s audience.

Property after property succeeds — either as a business or an exit — because it draws and keeps an audience.

Content is one way to do that, but there are others.  Facebook doesn’t draw an audience because it’s social, but because it does something very compelling with the social medium that draws and keeps an audience.  MySpace drew an audience, but didn’t stay compelling and didn’t keep them.

Fads can draw an audience.  I think of Twitter more as a “flash-fad” generator than a social medium.  Something outrageous — Charlie Sheen, Osama’s death, whatever — draws a crowd of bystanders who goggle at it and magnify the effect.  Flash fads.

What would make Twitter enduring if if they have a reliable repeatable way to generate flash fad after flash fad.  It seems that’s what they’re on to, and, if they succeed, they will do well.

Whatever builds an enduring audience is king.  Your thoughts?