Friday, March 27, 2009

Time, Attention and Media Age

Merlin Mann of was recently at our office in Chicago and he presented his 'Time,Attention and Creative Work' theory.

It was a lot of common sense stuff about the present day work culture in general, packaged in a humorous manner. When I say work culture, I mean, the culture of Black Berrys, IMs, emails etc.

What he was trying to get to is, how in todays world we are "always connected" to our work. There's no escaping. In a strange way, we want to be connected. And that is troubling. It's like there's a lurking insecurity that forces us to keep checking our BlackBerrys and emails every 35 seconds. This is a connection-addiction of a strange kind. It's like we do not want to *miss out* on anything!

I tried to extrapolate his theory beyond work and profession and apply it to the "Media Age" we are in now.

Consider this. I can stay connected to the news via CNN, BBC etc, 24 by 7. If not by Television, then via internet on my laptop or via my iPhone while traveling. At no point can i say, I cannot have any information available at my finger tips. Even the elevator of my office building, that does not receive signals generally, has a small monitor that keeps emitting latest news round the clock. There is not a single moment of disconnection.

In other words, I am a 24 X 7 consumer for these "media predators" if you will, because they know they have me in their circle all the time. They can bombard me with all information, whether I am seeking it or not, and I cannot escape. Technically I *can* decide not to check or but I do not take that option. What more, I set one of them as my default home page on my browser.

So what's going on? - 'I am ALWAYS available; my attention is ALWAYS available'.If CNN wants to reach me now, it CAN via iPhone or through my elevator.

A human brain can sink in and process only so much information. The current media age has forced my brain to work overtime. The reason - my brain is now forced to allot sufficient time to "filter" out irrelevant information. What more, it also now needs to make sure the excessive and redundant information is kept aside. It cannot chew on same stuff again and again; you know.

Circa August 1941. My Grandfather must be in his early 30s, roughly around an age where men, seek or atleast pretend to seek world knowledge. On a fateful August day, America decided to be brutal. It roasted alive 2 million Japanese people in one day. Well actually let's make it one minute. 2 million, that is, about half the population of Chicago Land, gone.. whoosh in one single moment of monstrous inhumanity. A Democratic president supported by the Republican party, decided in it's wisdom to put an end to war with Japan in one stroke. And how!

I cannot imagine a bigger NEWS relevant to entire humanity than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was beyond NEWS. It was beyond sound byte. It *was* the NEWS.

Except, my Grandfather wouldn't have known. He and his wife (my grandmother) lived in small rural India. They were disconnected from the world. For them Japan was a distant land where some strange looking people lived. Nothing more than that. My grand father was active in nation's freedom struggle and I am sure he was very interested in World War II as that had a direct impact on Indian freedom movement. But he lived in a village in remote end of central India, where any piece of news took days if not months to reach. For one, there was no electricity or radio. The newspaper I am assuming would come from the nearest big town and would land only a few days later. The "latest news" was quite late in arriving.

There was no '24 hours' analysis of what happened. There was no "Doomsday" being predicted. (I think that bombing was the closest, mankind ever reached Doomsday. Nowadays we are "doomed" every day by some expert or the other). For people in my Grandfathe's village life moved on. For them that August, probably the monsoon was topic of discussion in local panchayat. Or may be their lands and labor issues and how to deal with other security issues. Japan's and America's war was not their problem. This may sound in-human, but that's the way it was.

In a sense, since they were so disconnected from Global events, their mind never thought "it's all going to be over" or "Mankind days are numbered". Now a days, we are ready to call off Human race at the drop of the hat. If a Wall Street scandal breaks - it's all over, if 9/11 happens, 'it's all over..we are doomed', if one nation goes for war, again 'it's all over'.

We have started using words like Doomed and Disaster quite liberally. If we really want to know what disaster means, we should pay a visit to Zimbabwe and see what it is like to live at inflation of 40 million %age.

We are in age of superlatives and exaggeration. In a way the media age has now conditioned our mind to respond in this manner. "It's going to be a disaster. If such and such things happen, we are doomed."

I am thinking, my grand parents survived one of the worst period known in contemporary history, where virtually every nation was fighting one another. When famine was common and Medicine had not even conquered even simple diseases. Cholera would neutralize an entire region, malaria was rampant in some parts of country. When the statistics of death was always in 1000s if not more.

So what has gone so wrong in last 10 years that hasn't gone wrong in last 100 years or 1000 years?

The world as we know has always been in state of flux, turmoil and constant state of war. This last link gives a list of all wars fought in the world over period of time.

2,00,0000 dying in a span of 2 days in Japan, 600,0000 Jews executed in Germany, many dying in Sino-Japan war, Korea War, Vietnam War (where 55,000 US troops were killed).

World was never ruled by Angels. This is the hard fact of life. To believe anything else is naive. Yet, in a weird way we have been conditioned to think otherwise in this media age. A media that is using my Time and Attention to create this virtual world where every little detail is over stated ad-nauseum



Rohit said...

Nice post!

"World was never ruled by Angels. This is the hard fact of life. To believe anything else is naive." - very nice!

However, I will differ with you on something. The closest mankind has come to doomsday is the cuban missile crisis. In WWII, Americans had the A Bomb and while Germany and Japan were in pursuit of it, they were not ready and in no position to launch back. We would never know what would have happened without the a-bomb. Maybe japan would have gone on to fight for another decade and wiped out every bit of civilization in that area and never had any chance of coming back...maybe they would have surrendered in few months. One theory I have read is that America wanted to use it for 3 reasons - end the war because they couldn't sustain it anymore; justify the huge amount of money spent on the a-bomb research (yup!!); and establish supremacy across the world before the war ends because they would never be able to use the a-bomb if the war ends.

...the fear now should be about the lunatics with a single "black market" a-bomb which will set off a chain reaction and completely destabilize everything that we have learned to depend on!

good post!

kautilya said...

Yep, AQ Khan's nuclear wal-mart is pretty scary impending doom...

I think the recent Talibaization of part of Pakistan is a wake up call (if there haven't been ones before).

The ultimate goal of Taliban is to run over Pakistan and seek control of that nuclear button. For Taliban, Pakistan is the "means to an end".