Vol 2 | Issue 3 | October 2013

Vol 2 | Issue 3 | October 2013
Viewpoint is a quarterly thought publication produced by The PRactice.
Please send your views and feedback to [email protected] | www.the-practice.net
Too Long; Didn’t Read
The signs of a short attention span are everywhere. Business plans
become elevator pitches. Lectures are out; 18-minute TED talks are in.
The burning issue of the day stays aflame only for that day, turning to
yesterday’s ashes when the next fire breaks out. Politicians and companies brazen it out through scandals, playing the waiting game till the
problem is out of sight – and out of mind.
It’s worth examining the factors that contribute to this phenomenon and
certainly there’s no dearth of these in our modern lives. We cannot
survive without our digital devices and checking these for messages,
information and news has become an obsessive habit for most of us. Still,
it is one thing to claim that these are contributing to the attention deficit
problem and another to validate this claim with scientific data.
In this issue of Viewpoint, our expert contributors weigh in on how the
relentless exposure to digital media may be impacting the human brain,
particularly the adolescent brain. Others discuss the repercussions of
diminished attention spans and a short public memory for businesses,
communicators and society in general.
We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we did putting it
In This Issue:
Make a Business Plan. Then Change it. – How winning companies
manage unpredictability and make the most of their limited windows of
Cutting Through is a Cop-Out – Why communicators need to reacquaint
themselves with the principles and goals of true consumer engagement.
The Impatient Ones – Looking to science to predict the impact of digital
and sensory overload on the human brain.
No Time to Talk - In the rush to air our opinions, we often let civilised
dialogue and debate fall to the wayside.
Alterpoint - The 'jolting' tactics that today's celebrities need to use to hold
on to a piece of the limelight
Make a Business
Plan. Then Change it.
In the past, access to media and information was limited. Attention was
in abundance, however. That situation has now been completely
reversed. For businesses, the quest for mind and market share can be very
challenging in such an environment. But the ones who get it right are
unafraid to take chances and quick to respond to market signals.
Time was when the whole family used to sit down in front of the TV and
watch a program. That was a time (frankly, not so long ago) when
choices were limited. Limited programming meant that our world was
organized around dinnertime TV viewing.
Today, each one of us has our choice of distraction -- smart phones,
Facebook, e-mail, Youtube, social games, chat, Netflix, 500+ TV channels,
to name just a few. The explosion of options has solved a problem but
created a new one. While access to media was scarce earlier, attention
was in abundance. Now, it is exactly the opposite. Top news stays at the
top for a few minutes or, with some luck, a few hours.
There is a dynamic balance, in our universe, between things that are
abundant and those that are scarce. Innovation happens at the frontier of
scarcity because that’s where value and opportunity lie. This innovation –
usually some kind of technology or process or knowledge breakthrough
– opens the floodgates and what was once scarce ends up being
abundant. But now, the scarcity shifts to some other part of the system. It
doesn't go away.
The floodgates in our generation are formed of the Internet and the kind
of globalization it has fuelled, ensuring that we are instantly and always
connected. There is an explosion of information and media as well as of
access devices. The rules of this era are different from those of the
previous one. As a society, we cannot deny that our collective attention
span is shrinking. And it will continue to do so. Media content and form,
already unmanageable, will keep growing at a relentless pace. Google
glass, Youtube, connected TV, cloud, Internet of things, 3D printing,
smart watches, wearable computing - the list is endless, and the pace
ever more frenetic.
The impact for businesses is still unfolding. They are finding that it is
becoming hard to get their message to customers and even harder to
sustain mind share. The abundance of choices available to customers
makes analyzing, understanding and responding to trends an
overwhelming task for most businesses.
In a survey by The Economist, 74% of companies said that the pace of
change in their operating environment has picked up in the past 5 years.
79% believe it is critical that they respond quickly to the changes but only
39% state that they are making the right decisions. Product preferences
are highly volatile and loyalty is a fading commodity. Faster introduction
of new products is making products obsolete faster.
So, how should businesses prepare for and manage this new reality?
The primary challenge businesses face is in organizing themselves to
handle the seemingly contradictory forces of short-term agility and
long-term stability. Increasingly, in today's volatile environment,
short-term feedback and signals are chaotic and businesses find it
challenging to navigate them while moving towards their long-term
...in today's
volatile environment, short-term
feedback and
signals are chaotic
and businesses
find it challenging
to navigate them
while moving
towards their
long-term goals.
The following strategies can help organizations steer their course in this
new environment:
Embracing ambiguity:
Constantly shifting market trends don’t provide a deterministic line of
sight for businesses. To stay ahead of competition, companies must find a
way to conceive and support not one, but multiple strategic directions for
their companies. Apple is a great example of a company that embraced
this ambiguity and entered markets it had not been in before. Through a
category disrupting slew of products that included the iPod, iPhone and
iPad, it radically changed market expectations and shaped the technology
of the previous decade. Apple’s strategy played a significant role in the
decline of incumbents like Motorola, Blackberry, and Nokia. Its ability to
sustain and foster a broader vision in consumer products helped it come
back from the brink of closure to become the world’s #1 consumer
products company with a market capitalization of $400 billion.
Sensing and responding quickly to market changes:
Businesses are organized to operate at a set rhythm. In most cases, this
follows a pattern that all companies in a given industry follow. Breaking
away from this in response to changing consumer expectations can
provide a competitive advantage. Traditionally, in the fashion industry,
new designs are introduced during season changes. High-end fashion
companies typically make two collections every year. However, this
century-old pattern was disrupted by the Spanish retailer Zara which
pioneered the concept of "fast fashion". Unlike others in the field, Zara
introduces new stock every two weeks. That's an average of 24 collections
a year. Zara does this by aligning the communication between its stores
and designers so that customer feedback and requests are relayed on a
daily basis. This is again tied to a well-orchestrated supply chain and
operations that are quick to respond to changing customer preferences.
Taking bets, failing fast and learning:
Disruption emerges, not from following a predictable path, but from
making long terms bets, embracing change early on, failing fast and then
learning from it. Netflix is a good example of a company that has
proactively and successfully embraced change. First started as an online
video rental company, it reinvented itself a few times as it navigated the
landscape of customer preferences and loyalty. The first time around, it
faced a serious threat from its large offline incumbent competitor,
Blockbuster Videos, which had physical stores along with an online
presence. Netflix responded by focusing on making its delivery system
flawless and disruptively improving its movie recommendation engine.
As a result, Blockbuster went out of business. The second time around, as
video streaming was becoming popular, Netflix overhauled its DNA,
going from being an operations-heavy company with a warehouse full of
DVDs to a technology company delivering high quality, fast streaming,
on-demand videos. It was also willing to cannibalize its existing rental
subscription before its competition woke up to the opportunity.
Embracing ambiguity by daring to support different versions of a
company’s future; developing highly tuned market sensing and response
mechanisms; and taking bets, failing fast and learning from failure – all
of these are examples of agility and adaptability that are critical for
businesses today. While planning is important, businesses should be
willing to modify their plans when market conditions change.
There is no clear predictor of what will work and what won’t. So, like
Apple, businesses will have to support different paths simultaneously.
When the window of opportunity is limited and shrinking by the day,
businesses should learn to seize it and respond like Zara. Finally, as the
Netflix example shows, everything can get disrupted in a business
instant. You need to be ready to proactively abandon your model and
build a new one – before someone else forces you to. Your leadership's
imperative is to build the culture, team and processes that can chart your
company through this increasingly choppy but rewarding voyage.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/magazine/how-zara-grew into-the-worlds-largest-fashionretailer.html
Bala Girisaballa
Bala Girisaballa is an entrepreneur with techno-business and global
experience in software products and innovation leadership.
He currently advises multiple startups and heads the innovation
practice at Zinnov Management Consulting.
Cutting Through
is a Cop-Out
Based on the widely held view that public attention spans are shrinking,
communication professionals have become convinced that it is their job
to ‘cut through’ this clutter using any means possible. The resulting
tactics ignore the principles of real consumer engagement that can move
people to action. It is time for communicators — in brand or social
marketing — to step back and rethink their strategies.
Thanks to a ceaselessly raging perfect storm formed by digital and mobile
platforms amplifying and informing the 24-hour news cycle, we now live
in a communications and media environment that has given rise to two
fundamental—and fundamentally dangerous—pieces of collective
The first widely accepted assumption is that we are now all afflicted with
painfully short attention spans. In less than a decade, the human brain has
been so radically reshaped by the Internet and the explosive proliferation
of smart phones and social media that sustained focus is nearly impossible. We have become a species of information speed freaks, flitting
second-by-second from one digital stimulus to the next. Once capable of
comprehending—and composing—symphonies and extraordinary works
of literature, we now struggle to make it through a single tweet before
skimming to the next link or status update.
The second assumption is that, like angels dancing on the heads of pins,
there are more media outlets and communications platforms competing
for this thin sliver of attention than ever before. Our attention is premium
real estate, with a vast mob of brands, channels and platforms trying to
vie, bribe and connive their way in. Only the savviest, smartest or most
brazen tactics will be noticed.
It is now widely accepted that to mitigate these presumed challenges, the
ultimate goal is to “cut through.” As communications professionals, we
In the areas of social health and public affairs, the valuation of “cutting
through” over all else is not just totally ineffective. It is actually quite
dangerous. These communication styles and tactics are rapidly heightening consumer desensitization and apathy—often dehumanizing the most
vulnerable and at-risk members of a society in the process.
must tirelessly strive to create content that explodes through the thicket of
advertising, messaging and entertainment, arresting the uncontrollable,
compulsive impulse to click away.
Isn’t that just terribly convenient for us?
In India, there is no greater example of this than the heartbreaking and
shameful rape epidemic that has landed the country in the international
Suddenly, we all accept as truism a set of beliefs that seem to absolve
us from the challenges of long term consumer engagement, allowing
us to wallow and traffic in what often amounts to the coarsest, basest
and most disposable kinds of content.
A search for “rape” on the Times of India website returns more than 1800
separate news stories—the majority for individual incidents, each truly
horrific. They appear almost daily, with nauseating similarities in both
the crimes and the stories themselves. Few if any articles devote much
attention to the victims of these atrocities beyond referring to them as “a
woman” or “a tourist” or “a girl.” It is a perpetuation of the dehumanization they have suffered at the hands of their attackers.
Certainly, nothing commands attention more efficiently than direct
stimulation of our most primal impulses through images of violence, sex,
food or anything that stimulates a reptilian fight-or-flight response. But,
honestly, how much strategy, insight and creativity does this really
require? Some of us are laughably becoming “communication professionals” in title only.
Suddenly, we all
accept as truism a
set of beliefs that
seem to absolve us
from the
challenges of long
term consumer
Under the rubric of “cutting through,” advertising and public relations
increasingly draws from the dark shadows and fringes of popular
culture—dragging pornography and graphic violence, now more
privately accessible than ever before, into the mainstream. From kidnapping to rape to suicide to racism, everything is now fair game for even the
most traditional brands. As the toxicity of “shock and awe” communications permeates all aspects of culture, we shrug it off as the necessity and
reality of “cutting through” the acrid fog that this kind of work in fact
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of it all, though, is our willingness as an
industry to accept it so unquestioningly, despite enormous evidence to the
contrary. From the almost intricately complicated role-playing video
games that find a global audience of players interacting in real time, to the
rise of extremely sophisticated television shows that evolve over years of
spiraling character arcs and twists and turns, there are plenty of examples
of people gravitating not toward the shallower ends of communication
and entertainment, but to deeper and more substantive work.
Do consumers really have shortening attention spans, or are they so quick
to turn away because they are under constant communications assault?
With everything amped up to be louder and more shocking than everything else, it is quite possible that people are not voraciously consuming,
but in fact flinching from the increasing onslaught of simplistic, poorly
conceived and derivative content. Content perpetuated by the kind of
self-serving group think that often drives whole industries and verticals.
In the realm of consumer marketing and branding, this mentality leads
merely to campaign failure, lost revenue and an erosion of brand equity.
Merely? Yes—at least when compared to the damage it can do when
applied in other disciplines.
Few if any articles
devote much
attention to the
victims of these
atrocities beyond
referring to them
as “a woman” or “a
tourist” or “a girl.”
It is a perpetuation
of the dehumanization they have
suffered at the
hands of their
As consumer marketing advocates often advise communications
professionals working in social marketing and public affairs to adopt
branding strategies and best practices, it begs an obvious question.
How exactly do you “cut through” endless, numbing stories of violent
rapes against women and girls? (Or disease transmission, or racial
profiling, or climate change, or obesity among children, or distracted
driving, or the murder and displacement of civilians in war.)
The answer is simple. You don’t.
Ratcheting up lurid details repeatedly, story after story, leads only to
intense desensitization or prurience—or worse, both. It intensifies the
crisis while demotivating people from trying to make a difference. It is
the same as flattening all details to the point of inconsequence: Another
AIDS death, another teen suicide after bullying, another accident due to a
drunk or texting driver, another drone strike. Gruesome details or not,
with no emotional context, it all blurs into the white noise of a violent
world—not just easy to dismiss, but necessary to ignore.
In order to succeed in social marketing, particularly in the discipline of
public health, it is critical that we start with a different premise: Consumers have an extraordinary capacity for focus if inspired to engage.
The key to accessing and sustaining those greater levels of attention rests
in the skilled and decisive deployment of effective communications. One
shocking ad—or 1800 shocking stories—will be dismissed or quickly
forgotten. But a rich, evenly paced and well constructed communications
campaign that speaks with authority and specificity both to andparticularly-about individuals can have extraordinary resonance.
Don’t try to grab the attention of an audience of millions. Try to speak to
one person. Don’t try to talk about an epidemic of sexual assaults in a
country of 1 billion people. Instead, tell the story of one little girl in
Raipur. Instead of just the ugly details of the crime, talk about what her
life was like before the attack. Did she like to draw, color, dance, sing?
What did she want for her birthday or to be when she grew up? What has
changed since being attacked and violated by a predator? Is she having
nightmares? Is she able to eat? Play? How is her family coping?
Just pondering questions like this draws in not just a depth of
emotional complexity that more effectively reveals the wide-scale
horror of what is happening—it also allows readers to connect in the
deeply compassionate way that leads to focused outrage, action and
Whether those results are along the lines of brand equity and
consumer sales, or—more importantly—cessation of the damage
caused by public health crises, the principles are the same. Thoughtful, intuitive and strategic specificity heightens sensitivity and
commands attention, while sensationalism only serves to desensitize
and demotivate.
As consumer branding experts and advertisers urge communications
professionals to follow them down the darkening and narrowing
alley of shock value, perhaps it is time to take a step back and look at
the insights and strategies that have long informed the most successful social marketing campaigns. Rather than constantly trying to “cut
through,” with thoughtless, cynical jolts that lead nowhere, let’s
instead strive to live up to the real challenges and responsibilities of
communications, and create work that that forges true and meaningful human connection. If we want consumers to follow us, we must
have somewhere to go—and a clear path to get there.
Michael Ramah
Michael Ramah is a senior partner and Chief Client Officer at
Porter Novelli, a global public relations firm.
The Impatient Ones
What is the impact of increasing digital and sensory overload on the
human brain? Is it creating a generation of restless, easily distracted
individuals? Or one with superior multitasking and parallel processing
skills? Recent neurobiological and related research provide some
answers, if not definitive ones.
Co-authored by Dr. Sowmya Bhaskaran, Dr. Arun Vangili, Dr. Shekhar
Seshadri Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry NIMHANS,
The human brain is an enigmatic organ. The ability to focus attention on
a task is one of its important functions. In the modern era of advanced
communications, with social media and 24x7 news channels, the human
brain has the unenviable task of keeping up with the sensory overload
that surrounds an average urban dweller. The impact of this information
deluge has been explored in depth -- in books such as ‘Future Shock’, for
example, where Alvin Toffler describes the effects of our fast-paced lives
on the way we think, feel and behave.
The speed with which things are currently communicated has altered the
dynamics of human thought. The latest neurobiological research has
dispelled an earlier belief that the human brain does not physically
change after early childhood. Not only does stimulation of various kinds
influence the way our brains develop, but this transformation continues
throughout life. This phenomenon of reorganization in the brain is called
neuronal plasticity.
The neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield believes that, as a result of
this property, every experience one is exposed to causes the brain to
modify itself. As the experience changes, it follows that the brain will
adapt in response. In this respect, she asserts that “technologies are
infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by
buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and
who live for the moment’’.
Greenfield also highlights the impact of these changes on young people.
She theorizes that the combined effects of the greater plasticity of the
young brain and the extensive exposure to television, computers and
video games is leading to a shortening of their attention spans
Her theories have led to a full scale debate, at the heart of which is
this question: Are we permanently altering our minds and cultivating
certain cognitive capacities at the expense of other important ones
because of our dependence on digital media?
Several studies have emphasised the benefits of video games and Internet
searching as a way to ‘‘boost brain power’’ and drive plasticity. These
activities are thought to delay cognitive and age-related decline of vision
and memory by generating new brain cells and reorganizing connections
between existing cells. From this view, digital technologies are enhancing cognitive capacities such as multitasking and enabling us to live
successfully in this fast-paced world. In fact, some have claimed that
younger generations growing up with digital technologies are developing the ability to parallel-process and encode information quickly -- skills
that give them a distinct edge in a high-tech environment.
Are we permanently
altering our minds
and cultivating
certain cognitive
capacities at the
expense of other
important ones
because of our
dependence on
digital media?
However, the costs of developing these ‘‘hyper-kinetic teenage minds’’
through chronic use of digital media remain a matter of concern. Some
scientists fear that habitual multitasking can lead to symptoms of
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.This could continue into
adulthood with significant impact on a person’s life. Such individuals are
more vulnerable to drug abuse or more likely to underperform their
peers in a professional setting. Disorders of this nature are increasingly
being identified and treated.
Evolution has provided animals with the mechanism of attention in order
to ward off attacks by predators. Thus, the ability of attention gives
animals a survival advantage. Paradoxically the shortening of attention
span seems to confer a survival advantage in today’s world. A recent
article in The Economist titled ‘In Praise of Misfits’ describes how people
diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD) are sometimes sought out by organisations. Individuals with Asperger’s with their obsessive interest in narrow subjects,
passion for numbers and patterns, and interest in repetitive tasks are
preferred by IT organisations. People with ADHD are restless and
deemed more likely to come up with new and creative ideas. Of course,
the old fashioned ‘organisational man’ who can win over clients is still
needed, but the secret to organisational success lies in delegating tasks to
those best equipped to handle them.
Thus, as of now, science does not have a definitive answer regarding the
role of digital media on adolescent well-being. It merely suggests that the
adolescent brain is particularly impressionable when it comes to
environmental influences, good or bad. This period of vulnerability
should also be viewed as a window of opportunity to learn, change and
sustain in order to prevent mental illness and the negative effects of
aging. Such response-adaptation is necessary given the frequency with
which disturbing events take place in contemporary society.
It would appear that our collective public memory is shrinking as we
routinely express outrage about scams, rapes, and bad roads before
quickly moving on. Is this because our attention span is shortened or
because too much is brought to our attention? Either way, the success of
social media platforms proves that, as a society, we are comfortable
expressing our thoughts before we jump to the next issue on hand.
Mainstream media and new ones like Twitter are shaping our patterns of
discourse. The neo-liberal economic policies have contributed to the
chronic restlessness of our collective psyche.
What we believe has been lost in this fast-paced world is the capacity for
reflection. In the digital world of split second decisions and instant
gratification there is limited opportunity to think, reflect and learn from
experience. Let’s take some time to reflect on that!
No Time to
When problems and issues surface, the public reaction is swift, strong
and openly aired via social media. However, what remains in short
supply in this era of quick sound bites is the will and patience to aim for
solutions through dialogue and engagement.
“The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nick Carr offers a critical analysis
of the effect of the internet on cognition.
Green, C. Shawn, and Daphne Bavelier."The cognitive neuroscience of video games." Digital
media: Transformations in human communication (2006): 211-223. This article provides an
insight into the various cognitive domains that are enhanced through usage of digital media.
The easy way, it seems to me, is to blame Twitter. Our deteriorating
reading skills, the hero worship of new messiahs, the coarsening of
public discourse … must be those 140 character limits that are responsible. Must be some deep desire for sound bites rather than in-depth
In the book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, Gary Small, one
of America’s leading neuroscientists, explores the remarkable evolution of the human brain
caused by today’s constant technological presence.
Dr Shekhar Seshadri is currently Professor, Department of
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental
Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore.
Sowmya Bhaskaran is a psychiatrist who is also currently
pursuing a Doctorate of Medicine in Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry at NIMHANS.
Arun Vangili is a psychiatrist who is also currently pursuing
a Post Doctoral Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NIMHANS
Yet the question to
ask about all this is
not whether
Twitter is to blame
for our situation
today, whatever
that may be.
Twitter is a tool,
after all. It will be
used and misused,
as most tools have
been in the past.
That there is some truth here, I have no doubt. Look at most newspapers
today, for example. You will invariably find a "Twitter-speak" column in
it, featuring the latest tweeted tidbits about something-or-the-other from
somebody-or-the-other in Bollywood. Or if there's a major news event -a hijacking of a plane, a gang rape -- you can be sure the paper will
similarly carry a column devoted to tweets about it. Often sms-style – u
no, ‘lyk’, ‘wid’ n d lyk – deficient in grammar and spelling and infested
with exclamation marks, but still offering pithy comment and strong
And of course that's the point -- and the great value to a busy journalist -of these tweets. Want comment on the #MidDayMeal calamity? Or the
#MumbaiGangRape? Or some other event that has us all abuzz? Fire up
your nearest Twitter client, search for those hashtags, and take your pick
from the list that shows up on your screen. Alternatively, simply follow a
few well-known figures on Twitter, and choose from their tweeted
remarks on the event you have in mind.
The thing is, we all have opinions. In the past, when a reporter wanted to
find some of those to flesh out a piece, she would have to make several
phone calls. Twitter's great triumph is that it offers every one of us a way
to put our opinions out for public consumption. Makes you wonder how
we even managed, before hashtags came along.
Yet the question to ask about all this is not whether Twitter is to blame
for our situation today, whatever that may be. Twitter is a tool, after all.
It will be used and misused, as most tools have been in the past. Viewed
in a historical context, we might remember that nearly every great
technological advance -- radio, TV, computers, cell phones – was also
greeted with a degree of consternation and worry. Worry about whether
we can and should do without it, whether we'll get hopelessly addicted,
whether it will addle our minds beyond repair. But look back on such
worry from years later, after the new has become routine, and it seems
misplaced, even ludicrous.
That's how I believe we'll look back at Twitter.
All of which is a rather long-winded preamble to say this: if we are
indeed in an age of sound bites and decreasing attention spans, the fault
does not lie with Twitter. It lies instead with us.
What the impatience translates
into is that we
don't want to
invest the time
and energy to
understand the
other person or
engage with his
different views. So
our stated
opinions take the
place of nuanced
I happen to believe we are in such an age. In particular, I think the way
we engage politically with those around us has changed a lot.
Representative democracy means dialogue -- often lengthy, argumentative, even heated dialogue. Parliaments evolved as the place to conduct
such dialogue. In Iceland, you can visit the meadow where possibly the
world's oldest parliament -- the country's earliest incarnation of its
"Althing" -- first gathered in the year 930. Think of that. A millenium ago,
Icelanders met in this grassy place to craft laws, proclaim them and
dispense justice. And it's arguably from those roots that today's sophisticated parliamentary institutions (our Lok Sabha, Israel's Knesset, the
USA's Congress, England's Parliament) have grown.
Sophisticated they may be, but fundamentally parliaments are still about
dialogue. They are where complex issues get examined in detail and
taken to some resolution. And in a large, diverse country like India, the
complexity is greatly compounded.
Which is not to say dialogue and examination and resolution cannot
happen in India. But the issues in India are so many and so complex that
we often seem unable to fully discuss them or to adequately address
them in a reasonable length of time. Think poverty. Think public health.
Think primary education. Think the caste system. Think religious
differences. Think sanitation. Think … well, take your pick.
Each of these is a concern that India has had to grapple with since
independence. We have tried tackling them in various ways, but our
peculiar reality is that we have not managed to solve most of them. So as
the years go by, a certain public impatience sets in. Because we haven't
found answers, we grow impatient with dialogue, with parliament, even
with democracy itself.
This is, at least in a political sense, where we are with sound bites and the
like. What the impatience translates into is that we don't want to invest
the time and energy to understand the other person or engage with his
different views. So our stated opinions take the place of nuanced
dialogue. I state mine, you state yours. perhaps we abuse each other
because I don't like yours and you don't like mine; we move on to the
next thorny issue and repeat.
And for an endeavour like this, Twitter is a fine tool indeed.
Is this a simplistic view of where we are today? Possibly, but I am sure it
will strike more chords than anyone is willing to admit.
So where to, from here, if we want our problems solved? One route leads
to what a number of countries have tried, usually with unpleasant
consequences: the dictator who promises miracles but delivers misery.
Count Germany, Argentina, the old USSR, Romania, Pakistan and many
more in that list.
The other route is to retain trust in and strengthen democracy and to
understand that a society's problems take time to solve. But if sincerely
addressed, democracy at least holds the promise of solving them. Which
means keeping faith in dialogue, and in the time that dialogue takes.
Though I honestly don't know how you turn back from sound bites, or
how you increase attention spans. Then again, it's always possible
someone on Twitter will have ideas.
The unfortunate
rich and famous
If your career depends on being in the limelight, it can be disconcerting
when you feel yourself being edged out of it. These days, aspiring and
fading celebrities can’t resort to old routines for grabbing attention.
What worked yesterday may not work in today’s fickle and competitive
news environment. And therein lies the tragedy of the modern fame
The people who deserve a lot of the world’s pity today are the ones that
many people will never think of pitying. And why would Joe and Jane
Public (or perhaps Jagan and Janaki Janata) share a sad thought for them?
They seem to have it all, living the grand life and basking in the adulation
of thousands of fans.
But take a minute to see the other side. The poor little rich boys and girls
who form the amorphous category labeled celebrities. Those unfortunate
souls who live by the camera flash and waste away in the darkness. The
ones who take the Bard’s words about the world being a stage literally.
In these times, when even goldfish have a fighting chance in the attention
span races, celebrities have to up their ante to keep lenses pointed their
way, to keep the tabloids in circulation and, in keeping with the times, to
set the twitterverse on fire.
Dilip D'Souza
Dilip D’Souza is an award-winning journalist who writes regularly
about social and political issues. He also tweets, of course.
To read these, visit his twitter page @deathendsfun
A celebrity is one only when he or she is making news. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the one who hogs the headlines or the
tweets. How do you, as a celebrity, ensure that your acts (or shenanigans)
go viral?
One way to look at it is to say that the tactics that celebrities fall back on
have not changed for decades – Tease and Shock. But that is the same as
claiming a blunderbuss is the same as a rocket launcher since they are
both types of firearms. Time was when a Hindi movie heroine grabbed
headlines when she decided to appear on screen in a bathing suit. Today,
that will not wash. Enter the (almost) stripper. She promises to strip if
India wins the World Cup, and for many other reasons besides. However,
the promise remains unfulfilled and she teases and promises to do so at
every opportunity. And it has worked to keep her in the news regularly.
But the magic wand to go viral has to be the shock tactic. As Miley Cyrus
used in good measure during a recent music awards ceremony. The
ex-Disney star who has been peeling off layers of her goody-goody TV
image in recent times, pulled out all the stops during her performance. In
fact, she did not shed her image as much as tear it off and bump-andgrind it into the dust. The effect was far-reaching. The internet was abuzz
with reactions and jokes as people picked their jaws up off the floor and
hit the keys. The many adults who googled the word ‘twerking’ were
stunned all over again.
With so many
things fighting for
attention, the only
way forward for
poor celebrities is
to out-shock the
last person who
grabbed the public
imagination, or left
little to it.`
In one performance lasting six minutes or so, Miley Cyrus made life more
difficult for aspiring celebrities hoping to make a splash. Information
overload (some would say trivia overload) has desensitized the average
reader and viewer and it takes a lot more to grab attention. And while in
simpler times, raised eyebrows might also have meant more eyeballs, the
stakes have now been raised in inverse proportion to the attention span.
With so many things fighting for attention, the only way forward for poor
celebrities is to out-shock the last person who grabbed the public
imagination, or left little to it.
In their quest to stay in the limelight, celebrities have to be ready to drop
many things -- their inhibitions, their clothes, and the occasional colourful
word on the wrong occasion. Many people see this as a drop in morals
and standards, but the average celebrity doesn’t lose sleep over this as
long as his standards are flying high in Tabloid World.
Out of news, out of mind is the mantra that celebrities live by. The
explosive increase in media has created more platforms to perform on,
but these platforms are becoming more fragmented and niche in nature.
Faced with so many options, viewers and readers limit their exposure to
the topics and channels that they identify most with, rather than spread
their attention too thin.
But the celebrity is not just competing with others of his ilk for this
attention. Social media has made every other person an attention hound
with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other platforms serving
as personal stages for the individuals on them. This leaves us even less
time and mindspace for the antics of celebrities. Unless the news is
startling enough to dislodge the latest selfie, the news-seeker has no
chance of making a dent, never mind an impact.
This relentless chase for fame and hankering after the public’s
ever-decreasing attention has caused many stars to go off the rails and
end up as train wrecks. Ironically, this sometimes ends up grabbing
headlines and feeding the need for attention, rewarding ‘bad’ behaviour
in the process. This inspires a new generation of hungrier wannabe
celebrities, and the vicious cycle starts again, this time in a higher gear.
And so it goes, ad infinitum, and for many people, ad nauseam.
Vol 2 | Issue 3 | October 2013
Viewpoint is a quarterly thought publication produced by The PRactice.
Please send your views and feedback to [email protected] | www.the-practice.net