What has become of the words that we read?
There are many converging forces that could lead you to believe that the skilled craft of formulating words that raises the general public's IQ, informs the world and inspires us to be more -- on many levels -- is all but fading. It turns out that we are a nation no longer interested in depth and discourse around the topics of the day, but would much prefer to share a meme that involves an obscure character from the cult classic film, The Princess Bride on Facebook than we are in sharing an article about the advancements in micro 3D printing that could lead to many massive implications in terms of both how we manufacture products and how we can improve healthcare. Sure, one of those ideas plays in the shallow end of the intellectual pool, while the other one is more for the deep-end, but it turns out that in a world of 140-characters (thank you, very much, Twitter), the vast majority of the population isn't taking advantage of all of these published words... we're much more interested in what gets a click, share, plus one, tweet, and more (and, that's not the hefty stuff).
She's so heavy.
Is it any surprise that flashy headlines and fake celebrity death memes on Twitter get so much attention? From the early days of blogging, the content that got the most clicks were the ones with the catchy headlines. Some might argue that Huffington Post banks on this type of content in a race for attention and search engine optimization. The truth is that Huffington Post is not alone. It's not only competing with the regular slew of online publishers and traditional publishers trying to figure out how the digitization of media has forced their way to rethink publishing, but they are now competing with you and I -- the new publishers of content. Can you stand back and be the consumer for just a moment? We used to live in a digital world where AOL or Yahoo acted as our homepage/gateway to the Internet. These pages were carefully crafted and edited to ensure that you would not only come back, but that you would make it your personal destination of choice. Now, we have shifted towards our own Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter profile pages as our gateway to the world.
Welcome to Digital Narcissism.
In this era of digital narcissism, where our gateway to content is through the lens of the people we like and admire most, traditional and digital publishers must now grasp for attention in an even flashier way. They are no longer just competing with one another for your attention, but they're facing a most powerful adversary in the struggle for attention: your friends and acquaintances. Now, stories like, "The 10 People On Twitter You Must Follow" are competing alongside your best friend who tweets out, "you have got to check this out..." with a link to whatever it is that has caught their attention.
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While it might be nice to hear from Facebook well-wishers on your birthday, you should think twice before posting your full birthday. Beth Givens, executive director of the <a href="http://www.privacyrights.org/" target="_hplink">Privacy Rights Clearinghouse</a> <a href="http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/110674/6-things-you-should-never-reveal-on-facebook">advises</a> that revealing your exact birthday and your place of birth is like handing over your financial security to thieves. Furthermore, Carnegie Mellon researchers recently <a href="http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/07/social-insecurity-numbers-open-to-hacking.ars" target="_hplink">discovered</a> that they could reconstruct social security numbers using an individual's birthday and place of birth. Rather than remove your birthday entirely, you could enter a date that's just a few days off from your real birthday.
"Your mother’s maiden name is an especially valuable bit of information, not least since it’s often the answer to security questions on many sites," writes the <em><a href="http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/what-not-to-tell-facebook-friends/?src=tptw" target="_hplink">New York Times</a></em>. Credit card companies, your wireless service provider, and numerous other firms frequently rely on this tidbit to protect your personal information.
Publicizing your home address enables everyone and anyone with whom you've shared that information to see where you live, from exes to employers. Opening up in this way could have negative repercussions: for example, there have been instances in which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/17/please-rob-me-site-tells_n_465966.html" target="_hplink">burglars have used Facebook to target users</a> who said they were not at home.
Don't post status updates that mention when you will be away from home, <a href="http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/dont-tell-facebook-friends-that-youre-going-away/" target="_hplink">advises</a> <em>New York Times</em> columnist Ron Lieber. When you broadcast your vacation dates, you might be telling untrustworthy Facebook "friends" that your house is empty and unwatched. "[R]emind 'friends' that you have an alarm or a guard dog," Lieber writes.
Although new features like Facebook Places encourage you to check in during outings and broadcast your location (be it at a restaurant, park, or store), you might think twice even before sharing information about shorter departures from your home. "Don’t post messages such as 'out for a run' or 'at the mall shopping for my sweetie,'" Identity Theft 911 <a href="http://identitytheft911.com/company/press/release.ext?sp=11132" target="_hplink">cautions</a>. "Thieves could use that information to physically break in your house."
By now, nearly everyone knows that racy, illicit, or otherwise incriminating photos posted on Facebook can cost you a job (or worse). But even deleted photos could come back to haunt you. Ars Technica recently <a href="http://arstechnica.com/web/news/2010/10/facebook-may-be-making-strides.ars" target="_hplink">discovered</a> that Facebook's servers can store deleted photos for an unspecified amount of time. "It's possible," a Facebook spokesperson <a href="http://arstechnica.com/web/news/2010/10/facebook-may-be-making-strides.ars" target="_hplink">told</a> Ars Technica, "that someone who previously had access to a photo and saved the direct URL from our content delivery network partner could still access the photo."
Flubbing on your tax returns? Can't stand your boss? Pulled a 'dine and dash?' Don't tell Facebook. The site's privacy settings allow you to control with whom you share certain information--for example, you can create a Group that consists only of your closest friends--but, once posted, it can be hard to erase proof of your illicit or illegal activities, and difficult to keep it from spreading. There are countless examples of workers getting the axe for oversharing on Facebook, as well as many instances in which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/16/arrested-over-facebook-po_n_683160.html" target="_hplink">people have been arrested</a> for information they shared on the social networking site. (Click <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/26/fired-over-facebook-posts_n_659170.html" target="_hplink">here</a> to see a few examples of Facebook posts that got people canned.)
Watch where you post your phone number. Include it in your profile and, depending on your privacy settings, even your most distant Facebook "friends" (think exes, elementary school contacts, friends-of-friends) might be able to access it and give you a ring. Sharing it with Facebook Pages can also get you in trouble. Developer Tom Scott created an app called <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/24/evil-facebook-app-exposes_n_587144.html" target="_hplink">Evil</a> that displays phone numbers published anywhere on Facebook. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/24/evil-facebook-app-exposes_n_587144.html" target="_hplink">According to Scott</a>, "There are uncountable numbers of groups on Facebook called 'lost my phone!!!!! need ur numbers!!!!!' [...] Most of them are marked as 'public', and a lot of folks don't understand what that means in Facebook's context -- to Facebook, 'public' means everyone in the world, whether they're a Facebook member or not."
<a href="http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/110674/6-things-you-should-never-reveal-on-facebook" target="_hplink">CBSMoneyWatch.com</a> warns social network users that counting down the days to a vacation can be as negligent as stating how many days the vacation will last. "There may be a better way to say 'Rob me, please' than posting something along the lines of: 'Count-down to Maui! Two days and Ritz Carlton, here we come!' on [a social networking site]. But it's hard to think of one. Post the photos on Facebook when you return, if you like. But don't invite criminals in by telling them specifically when you'll be gone," MoneyWatch <a href="http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/110674/6-things-you-should-never-reveal-on-facebook" target="_hplink">writes</a>.
Identity thieves also target children. "Don't use a child's name in photo tags or captions," <a href="http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/june/electronics-computers/social-insecurity/7-things-to-stop-doing-on-facebook/index.htm" target="_hplink">writes</a> Consumer Reports. "If someone else does, delete it by clicking on Remove Tag. If your child isn't on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name."
CBSMoneyWatch.com <a href="http://moneywatch.bnet.com/saving-money/blog/devil-details/6-things-you-should-never-reveal-on-facebook/2360/?tag=content;col1" target="_hplink">writes</a>: <blockquote>You take your classic Camaro out for street racing, soar above the hills in a hang glider, or smoke like a chimney? Insurers are increasingly turning to the web to figure out whether their applicants and customers are putting their lives or property at risk, according to Insure.com.</blockquote> There have been additional <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/22/facebook-twitter-users-co_n_471548.html" target="_hplink">reports</a> that insurance companies may adjust users' premiums based what they post to Facebook. Given that criminals are turning to high-tech tools like Google Street View and Facebook to target victims, "I wouldn't be surprised if, as social media grow in popularity and more location-based applications come to fore, insurance providers consider these in their pricing of an individual's risk," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/22/facebook-twitter-users-co_n_471548.html" target="_hplink">says</a> Darren Black, head of home insurance for Confused.com.
<a href="http://identitytheft911.com/company/press/release.ext?sp=11132" target="_hplink">Identity Theft 911</a> reminds Facebook users never to post photos that reveal the layout of an apartment or home and the valuables therein.
Do you want your Facebook profile--even bare-bones information like your gender, name, and profile picture--appearing in a Google search? If not, you should should block your profile from appearing in search engine results. Consumer Reports <a href="http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/june/electronics-computers/social-insecurity/7-things-to-stop-doing-on-facebook/index.htm" target="_blank">advises</a> that doing so will "help prevent strangers from accessing your page." To change this privacy setting, go to Privacy Settings under Account, then Sharing on Facebook.
Who do you think wins?
It turns out that we have to be careful in these brave new times. Earlier this week, The Pew Research Center released a new report, The State of the News Media 2013 looking at the current state of American Journalism. Poynter has an excellent recap of the report with some additional insight in their news item, State of the News Media 2013 shows how industry is responding to 'continued erosion' of resources. Some key findings in the Pew Research Center are:
The silver lining.
The silver lining in these times of purgatory for traditional media may be the uptick and growth for smartphone and tablet users -- which continues to grow in readership at a strong pace -- but is struggling to find the advertising revenue that supports this model. Poynter calls the revenue for smartphones and tablets "largely a no-show." Ouch.
The bigger problem.
The idea that we're consuming content in 140 characters and driven by wild headlines is not a divergent concept in relation to the state of news media in 2013 as Pew Research Center has laid out. In fact, if you combine these two thoughts, you may find yourself staring down the barrel of a very boring gun. From the Poynter article: "The toughest news comes in the digital chapter, where Pew researchers found that the big dogs -- Google and Facebook -- have staked out the growing ad segments of mobile and video. Google is now the leader is digital display advertising as well as search. And if, as analyst Gordon Borrell and others predict, the next big thing is local advertising targeted to preferences revealed by a person's Internet choices, one has to believe Google and the others have awesome artillery in hand." For the record, Google nor Facebook employ journalists in a newsroom, do they?
Be careful of the content you consume.
If you record Charlie Rose on your DVR as a way to cleanse all that Dancing With The Stars that you're watching, imagine what your digital consumption might say about you. We are all drowning in a sea of tweets, links, status updates and more that may keep us informed of our broader social graph, but is probably not making any of us that much smarter or expanding our world view beyond our own myopic borders.
As traditional media outlets struggle to maintain a viable business model and the online publishers battle to compete for attention while generating income from the banner ads or sponsored content that they're producing, we could well find ourselves in a world where the depth and breadth of text-based content gets drowned out by everything that was just mentioned above along with the massive growth of online video, audio and more. According to the MediaPost news item, Nearly 4 Billion Minutes Of Video Ads Streamed In February: "Continuing to break records, U.S. consumers spent 3.8 billion minutes streaming video advertising in February. Consumers viewed 9.9 billion video ads, last month, with Google sites (YouTube) serving an all-time high of 2.2 billion ads, comScore found." How long do you think the average video view is on YouTube? Further proof that we're not getting too much depth?
Perhaps all this fast, free and short form content has actually changed the news consumer. Perhaps we are no longer digging deeper into issues and have taken on the speed of information exchange as the the true value? Still, it feels like something is missing. As the discourse changes and everyone publishes more and more across multiple platforms in front of different screens, we could well be at the very beginning of the end of written content as we have known it to date. If you made it this far, you may be one of the last few who want to dig a little deeper and, it may well be a good skill to start instilling in others.
Content as we know it is radically changing and adapting to a new time. Will you miss a world of long-form text?
Follow Mitch Joel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mitchjoel