The more new technology contributes to producing and/or making content available (articles, posts, music, films, social status, brand content…), the more we should worry that our brain capacity isn’t large enough to handle all this information. In the beginning, Amazon was just a concept that seemed more a slogan than a reality: “The world’s largest bookstore.” Today, the web has proven that there are more things that interest us than we can possibly take in.
Innovations that attempt to manage content.
From the onset, technology has made us hope that easy access to content would give us the time to actually consume it. On the hardware end of things, hard drive terabytes and the cloud allow us to store thousands of hours of film, music and photos that we will never look at or listen to. As for content flow, the RSS was a well-designed solution to never miss a post or a headline. With just one simple click on a logo, we freed ourselves from constantly monitoring sites to receiving notifications from several sources at the same time.
Effective at the beginning.
Subscriptions quickly became popular and as a result, the quantity of available content increased to distressing levels yet again. Netvibes provides a bit of intellectual relief: a real-time social media monitoring platform that organizes content into handy boxes on a single page. A bit later, when the feeling of content control seemed to be slipping away once again, Netvibes added tabs to better categorize its sources until the number of pages and their complexity was so great that it scared off many users.
Social networks don’t fix anything.
The social media explosion made things even more complicated with the addition of thousands of pertinent new information sources (and hundreds of millions that weren’t). At the beginning, it was magical – no need to worry; you just had to follow a few reliable, well-informed people. But with time, as we continued to discover more good sources, our subscriptions increased just like they did for RSS. Tools like Tweetdeck or Flipboard came in handy to follow the flow of tweets and the ever-increasing number of status updates as we added more friends on Facebook. At first, they did offer some peace of mind, but the large quantity of content eventually wore us down and the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety resurfaced.
The pattern could go on and on forever.
- Technical or conceptual innovations (RSS, Netvibes, Evernote, Dropbox, Instapaper/Read later, Tweetdeck, Flipboard and now Pinterest) offer relief in the form of simplification until the moment where we feel like we are drowning in content.
- It works at the beginning – a meticulous preliminary cull effectively delivers control and simplicity by wiping the slate clean and forcing us to rigorously reconsider our sources.
- Things slowly begin to deteriorate as we continue to add new subscriptions and new friends, until content quantity results in usage dissatisfaction, thus giving way to a new, reassuring innovation whose main quality is often its novelty.
Will TV be our next source of digital anxiety?
There really aren’t many reasons why the increasingly popular connected TV won’t be affected by this recurring pattern. Historically, TV channels have organized programs into slots before submitting them to the audience for a verdict. Although connected television will bring about a wave of television content freedom, it will also create a new source of frustration for viewers as they are faced with too much content and left not knowing what to choose. Similarly, subscriptions to an unlimited on-demand video service like Netflix will also create a permanent rift. Unless we ask ourselves what we want to watch, we won’t watch anything! Sooner or later, of course, a technological solution will pop up to ease our conscious and make choosing easier – at least for a while…
Jacques Attali stated in Skylines, “To think of your library is to dream that you will read all of its books before you die.” But to pin all that we find interesting on Pinterest, Evernote or Instapaper, or simply to bookmark them in our navigator, is to believe that the web can shelve it all like books in a library.
So it’s only flow…