Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fast Food Writing: Scaling Media Consumption

I remember first hearing the term “media consumption” long ago and thinking, “what an odd phrase.” But now, many years later, it has proven to be EXACTLY the right phrase. I don’t consider myself to be part of the generation of massively multitasking youth, the generation that, according to some Stanford studies, can only do homework while consuming some other form of media (mostly TV and IM). No, I’m old school. And yet, I also constantly turn on my phone to check email that doesn’t need checking, watch way too much TV and HUNGER for youtube videos regardless of topic or relevance. I just want to snack.

So what does this mean for writing? Like food, writing has always existed. But back in the day, literacy was rare, and the ability to publish even more rare. As such, there was a relatively high bar to get published, and really, people read the same 10 books for hundreds of years (reference: this is a blog, so no data, just a point to be made). Likewise, in the food industry, each meal was made by hand, and if not delicious, at least it wasn’t made primarily from ingredients that you couldn’t pronounce.

Then enter the food industry. As Food Inc, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and countless other books and movies will tell you, Food underwent a tremendous transformation. Essentially, we learned to SCALE food, enabling food to become ridiculously cheap. And lo and behold, we began to consume all this cheap, delicious food, not because we needed the calories, but because we hungered for that spark of stimulation. Consumption took on a whole new meaning as we consumed. And like it or not, processed foods have become the true winners in this new form of consumption because it embraced SCALE.

Some things are strikingly familiar in the writing space. No longer is the primary written word a novel that has taken a decade to write. Words are being consumed by the thousands, skimmed over as they go down our gullets by giant spoonfuls. We don’t read too carefully. Who cares about the grammer in my tweetfeed or friendfeed or facebook feed or… is it a coincidence that everything is a feed? We just open up our mouth, stick it up against the trough that is the internet and let the calories come piling in.

So, do I turn up my nose in disgust at these “empty calories?” Or do I embrace this world, realize that editing this blog post isn’t worth the time, and focus on turning myself into a writer that can withstand the changes that are rocking the medium. Faster, shorter, cheaper… Are we delivering depth or just stimulus? Or perhaps the challenge is the same that it is in any industry. I have a story to tell. Now how do I tell that story faster and cheaper.

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