Blog #9: tl;dr–Coping With Communication Overload

Any number of commentators have remarked on how the transition from print to digital media–by making it easier and cheaper than ever to produce and disseminate content–has resulted in what some people might call “communication overload.” Via our computers, our smartphones, and the screens that surround us as we make our way in the world, we are constantly bombarded with a barrage of multimedia messages.

Image “Short Attention Span” used here courtesy of a CC license by Sarah Mae on Flickr.

As Seth Godin describes it in a blog post titled, “Trapped by tl;dr,” we are drowning in an “internet tsunami,” and in order to avoid being swept away, we try to tread water by skimming the surface of all that communication:

TL;DR is internet talk for “too long; didn’t read”. It’s also a sad, dangerous symptom of the malfunctions caused by the internet tsunami. (Here’s a most ironic example of this paradox…)

The triathlete doesn’t look for the coldest bottle of water as she jogs by… she wants it fast and now. That mindset, of focusing merely on what’s fast, is now a common reaction to many online options. I think it works great for runners, not so well for learners.

There’s a checklist, punchline mentality that’s dangerous and easy to adopt. Enough with the build up, wrap this up, let me check it off, categorize it and quickly get to the next thing… c’mon, c’mon, too late, TL;DR…

Godin cautions against giving in to the tl;dr mindset, however:

Judging by length is foolish. TL;DR shows self-contempt, because you’re ignoring the useful in exchange for the short or the amusing. The media has responded to our demand by giving us a rising tide of ever shorter, ever more amusing wastes of time. Short lowers the bar, but it also makes it hard to deliver much.

He recommends instead that we “read incisively, curate, edit, choose [our] sources carefully, and in this way “[l]imit the inbound to what’s important, not what’s shiny or urgent or silly.”

In the absence of gatekeepers–such as newspaper and magazine editors, publishers, and the like–who used to control the flow of information by restricting access to the means of production and dissemination, Godin argues we have to become our own content “curators.”

Yet, where Godin places the responsibility squarely on the reader to engage in a meaningful way with longer-form content, some are stepping into the “curator” niche created by user demand for shorter, more concise communication. The website tldrlegal.com, for example, uses crowdsourcing to provide explanations of “software licenses in plain English,” for everything from Dropbox toTrueCrypt.

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: tl;dr

For this blog post, consider how digital communication media have changed not just how we compose, but also how we receive and process content. Think about whether and how the roles and responsibilities of content creators and content audiences may have evolved or may need to evolve in order to adapt to the new rhetorical context created by digital media. Use the questions below (or similar ones you create) as starting places when you craft your post:

  • Do readers have a responsibility to engage with longer content? If so, when and under what circumstances?
  • Does a content creator ignore significant aspects of the rhetorical situation when she crafts online content that risks a tl;dr response? Are there circumstances in which longer-form communication is still necessary, even in online contexts?
  • What are some rhetorical strategies that one can use to promote user engagement with longer-form content online, hopefully to avoid a tl;dr response?

In thinking about the relative responsibilities of creators and users in online rhetorical contexts, and how to optimize online communication, locate examples–both good and bad–to help illustrate your points about what works and what doesn’t. Use these examples a springboard for discussion; don’t just drop them in at the end.

In your Blog #9 post, you need to take a focused position about how understanding online rhetorical contexts can assist you in your technical communication process, rather than taking a scattered approach (which would happen if you simply wrote a few sentences in response to each question). Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog. You can quote from additional articles you read as support for your position. You should include specific workplace examples to further support your argument. Make sure to document your sources, either by linking to them or including them in a bibliography at the end of your post.

Featured Image “Short Attention Span Hopscotch” by Janet Lackey on Flickr.

One thought on “Blog #9: tl;dr–Coping With Communication Overload”

  1. Hey, Grace! I don’t know if you did this creepypasta post on purpose for Halloween, but it really worked and I love it! Wiles’ quote, “These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors,” is cleverly written and undoubtedly true. Your point that the type of genre used to express thoughts, ideas, and information is an agreeable one. When it comes to blog post entries, I usually associate “blog” with easy-readings and a chance for the author to fully express his/her emotions. In other words, I prefer to read blogs over other genres, such as textbooks. Also, as I have mentioned in another blog post, I think that length does not play into our attention spans as much as the styles of the writings do. As you said, “[t]he most successful creepypastas[…]are the lengthier ones.” I think that it is all about engaging your audience by relating to their interest (in your case, scary stories) and using more than one modality to keep readers involved. For instance, photos and videos are convincing ways to get your point across while engaging readers. Overall, you made valid points on why the uses of nontraditional formats and multimodal integrations are significant factors for appealing to audiences regardless of the length of the writing. Thanks for sharing!

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