Third Things First

It's becoming increasingly apparent that people today don't necessarily take in information linearly, as many who present it have thought for so long. Whether in books, periodicals, theater, film, songs, TV advertising, even spoken language, we have all been taught that to communicate clearly we need to state our case in a basic order. Our communications typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end. A case is often presented in brief, the details are given, an analysis or argument is presented based on the facts, and then a conclusion is reached. At least, that was what was practiced for centuries.

Now we're finding out that people don't need or necessarily want an order in the communications thrown at them. They want access to all of the elements, to be sure, but they want to navigate the data their way. In this hurry-up world we live and work in, where to-do lists are longer and longer and attention spans are shorter and shorter, people don't want the big five-course feast of information; they want to reach and grasp from the information buffet when and how they please. Witness channel surfing, web browsing, and radio button pushing as evidence of this information consumption behavior.

Consumers of information also want it in smaller, more easily digested portions, as indicated by the layout and portion size of the Wall Street Journal front page, People magazine articles, CNBC's news sampler, and innumerable other communications vehicles of our time.

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