Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Your Attention, Please

Nicholas Carr’s new book The Shallows has sparked a lively debate over how the Internet affects our brains. Carr believes that twitter feeds and blog posts have rendered us less able to concentrate on involved intellectual tasks like reading novels or watching opera.

In fact, many notable thinkers have voiced this concern in recent months. Playwright Tom Stoppard recently lamented that, as a result of our “world of technology . . . the printed word is no longer as in demand” as it has been in the past. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has warned that, in the Internet age, “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment."

Certainly the content explosion that the Internet has ignited can erode our ability to concentrate. But only if we let it. What makes the Internet such a liberating medium is that individuals can decide for themselves how they use it. If you’re looking to procrastinate, there’s plenty of content to divert your attention (I’m partial to Youtube.)

But the internet can just as easily be a tool for strengthening our minds by enabling us to sample from billions of sources and compile our own unique vision of the world.

For instance, I no longer rely solely on the New York Times for my morning serving of news and analysis. Instead, I read The Times, the NZ Herald, Arts and Letters Daily, The Huffington Post and a half dozen other publications and blogs before breakfast. I can weigh a variety of facts and opinions and use my judgment to decide for myself what to think about the BP oil spill and the Elena Kagan nomination.

In other words, the Internet is the perfect medium for the and/and world that we live in. We all crave substance as well as frivolity, and the Internet is a superb delivery system for both.

Overall, it’s hard to deny that, thanks to the Internet, consumers are now more empowered, informed and free than at any other time in the history of capitalism. Consumers don’t have to trust the potentially inflated claims of marketers and sales representatives. Now, anyone can instantly query a sea of people on Facebook or read product reviews on Amazon.com before making a purchase. They can gather information from company websites, consult message boards and read product review blogs.

It’s this wave of consumer empowerment that has made Lovemarks necessary. With all of this information at their disposal, consumers are no longer interested in the empty hyperbole that characterizes most brand marketing. What they are interested in is emotional experience. And, no matter how much content the Internet makes available to us, real emotional connection will always be in demand.

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