The discomfort of the Paper Generation. Understanding the proliferation of messages and the full impact of the digital age.

Signing up this week for Scoop.IT, a social media mashup tool, when i was suddenly hit by the realisation that i had no idea what it actually was.

“Create your topic-centric media by collecting gems among relevant social media streams
Publish it to people sharing the same interest” (http://www.scoop.it/)

It certainly sounds exciting: ‘topic-centric’ media and ‘gems’, all pretty promising. It probably is. I’ll let you know when i’ve had a play with it. My concern was not with Scoop.IT, but rather with my own slowly emerging understanding of the changing nature of media consumption.

I used to watch television and read books. Both of these activities concerned the consumption of pretty high value media. It costs a lot of money to make a television show or a film, and it takes a long time to write a book, find a publisher and get it onto the shelves. Social media and YouTube have changed all of that. It’s now incredibly easy to publish, but a great deal of what’s published is short and punchy. Some (most?) of it is disposable. I am more likely now to read fifteen short articles or posts where previously i may have read one book.

This kind of attention deficit is implicit in the language of social media. ‘Pokes’, ‘comments’, ‘diggs’, ‘learning bursts’ are all short, expressive, intense experiences. But it does leave us with the issue of how to save the relevant bits, how to build our collections.

I can see all the books on my shelf that i used for my postgraduate research. Whilst i probably couldn’t find the relevant chapter in most of them, if pushed, i could quite quickly find the right book to support a particular argument. Back then (and it wasn’t that long ago), i was barely using any digital sources, and still relied on the infamous Inter Library Loans, where you had a wedge of photocopied pages posted to you from Exeter University.

Today i’m using digital bookmarks, bookmarking sites like Delicious (http://www.delicious.com/) and Digg (http://digg.com/), but they are still, ultimately, unsatisfactory. I don’t have the feeling of being in control of the information.

On the flip side, it’s a million times easier to find something just by Googling it, so my need to retain a directory of links is diminished. Maybe my unease is just a hangover of being part of the ‘paper’ generation.

The speed of change and proliferation of both messages and sites is alarming. There is a feel of it being a self fulfilling and accelerating process. Some things seem constant, but maybe they are just the digital survivors. Google seems like a rock in the stream, but maybe in five or ten years we will be talking of it in the same terms as WebCrawler or AltaVista.

I like to think of myself as fairly up to date, certainly more tied into the multitude of social media sites and mashup tools than many of my compatriots, but then at other times i just feel adrift in the digital ocean, dreaming of the solid feel of the brown paper envelope full of yellowing paper.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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