Media Torrent:
April 1, 2002 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Media Torrent: ""I think this is one of many weird phenomena that contributes to a national attention deficit disorder."The crawl -- that stream of info-morsels and promotional hooks that seemed so urgent right after Sept. 11, but now seems so annoying and distracting -- seems to carry Gitlin's point with it as it creeps across the screen." Is this a real problem, or is it just the old guys not hip to the kids' video world? (via i want media)
posted by owillis (22 comments total)
Here's a related story on magazines more and more choosing images over words.
posted by owillis at 5:16 PM on April 1, 2002

As a graphic designer, I fail to see what the problem is. Life is speeding up. We all want to know more about what's going on. It's *interesting*. We now have the capability to get up-to-the-minute reports which, frankly, weren't available in the past. And, as the author notes, this is entirely voluntary. I am not forced to check my email or turn on the NCAA Finals in a few minutes by an Orwellian hand forcing a barrage of images and sound before me. I do it because a want to. Having "meaning in one's life" and finding out interesting "info-morsels" are not mutually exclusive.

As for images, the reason they're used more and more is because they're less susceptible to bias than words. Many loaded words mean different things to different people, but an image requires no filtering - it just is what it is.

And it also seems ironic that he's using the media to proclaim his sound bite on an anomaly that, frankly, carries none of the "less disposable feelings" he thinks we all need more of.
posted by Kevs at 6:11 PM on April 1, 2002

The current Harper's has an essay by Thomas de Zengotita called "THE NUMBING OF THE AMERICAN MIND" in which he explores how accelerated culture helped to gloss over the events of September 11. It's all very Guy Debord, vanishing signifiers and all, but it tries to answer your question. I don't have the article in front of me, but I think he argues that there's an absolute, physical limit to how much info one person can consume at any one moment, and we are sacrificing something for the increasing onslaught of stuff.
posted by muckster at 6:17 PM on April 1, 2002

I'm inclined more to agree with Kevs. Not that images are "less susceptible to bias than words"--I don't believe that to be true--but that, in general, the change in our sensory experience is more a good than a bad thing. It is pointless to lament the passing of the age of print--which doesn't mean that we no longer read, but that we read in a different way, and language and images and sounds reach us in new mixtures.
It's basic Marshall McLuhan: as media change, the "ratio of our senses" changes.
posted by Rebis at 7:47 PM on April 1, 2002

Where's Mefi's crawl?

Seriously, the most annoying thing about it is that the news is no more up to date than what's being reported on-screen.

By the way, I assume technology will soon make it optional?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:50 PM on April 1, 2002

I'm irritated that Rebis got to swing out with muh main man McLuhan before I got to, but yeah, it seems to me a sort of input creep is inevitable, and frankly, welcome. I tend to watch TV with the radio on, often while reading a book or magazine. I'm guessing I'm not alone in this behavior. It's not a numbing, it's an adaptation, an evolution. I like a lot of signal input at once. I should, I've been awash in it since birth.
TV news is largely content free, particularly the CNN of late, so it's easy to double up on the output, rather than dense up the content. They say a lot nothing, but at least they're pretty with it.
posted by dong_resin at 8:40 PM on April 1, 2002

The TV "crawl" is uniquely useful for dispelling (or starting?) rumors quickly in times of uncertainty; I think it will be with us for some time yet. Should emergency make it necessary to shut down the transportation grid again, the crawl is a great tool to have at the ready. If it's merely annoying at this point, let's count our blessings.

The classic on information overload is Wurman's Information Anxiety, recently updated a bit.
posted by sheauga at 8:47 PM on April 1, 2002

Wurman's book is - semi-amazingly given it's only 15 years old - as out of date today as one of those late 19th-century 500-page "how to be a good housewife" manuals. It's hard to imagine how worked up about living in a world where there were two or three newspapers a day to choose from! Three newsmagazines! How can we survive without going crazy?

Wurman didn't, of course, as we discussed in a thread a few weeks back. He did release Information Anxiety 2 at some point, though, which I never read.
posted by aaron at 11:24 PM on April 1, 2002

On Sky News and BBC News 24 you don't get the 'crawl', you get the interactive button, which takes you to a menu of the video feeds of all that day's top stories, plus weather etc. I love that, because it means I never have to watch another sport report. When interactivity becomes more widespread in the US then I suppose that's what Fox and CNN will have. It much more useful and less distracting.

As for the attention deficit thing, this argument has been going on for years. I remember reading about it in the Daily Mail in the eighties. It was all TV's fault back then. Personally, I think if sentence lengths are decreasing, that's a good thing. When I did my journalism course they made us rewrite every one of our sentences until they contained the same information in as few, short words as possible. Words shouldn't get in the way of meaning. Wordiness is not a virtue.

Also, the human mind is capable of shutting out the information it doesn't want. I'm sitting here typing while watching the TV. I'm not actually watching it, though. If something I'm interested in is mentioned, I might take notice. My ability to zone out the traffic noise in the background is similarly highly developed. I can daydream in public places to the extent that I miss the announcement that my train is late. The mind takes on as much information as it wants or needs. This over-stimulation argument is rubbish.
posted by Summer at 2:00 AM on April 2, 2002

Oh, and another thing:

advertising, pop music, video games, most movies -- barely pretend to impart information. They are designed to push our emotional buttons

Aren't they supposed to? Isn't that the point of them?
posted by Summer at 2:09 AM on April 2, 2002

> Life is speeding up.

What is it about your life that is faster now? Faster than what? And is that good?

I'm not trying to be sarky -- I really would like to know why people want to know everything right now and not half an hour or half a day or half a week from now. I have read nothing in the evening newspaper for as long as I can remember that would have made much difference to me if I had found out exactly when it happened. And what I have read in the evening papers has been much better than the quick stories you usually see on television. Couldn't the up-to-the-minute stuff be saved for the few emergency stories that come up?

I have the feeling that the news ticker (or crawl or whatever the jargon is for the thing at the bottom of the screen) is useful less to the viewer than to the news orgs.

First, it's an emotive gimmick: it feeds viewers the illusion that they are watching something urgent, important. It's an emotional trick, like playing cliche news music: staccato, reminiscent of the beeps and clacks of some old information machine (ticker, telegraph, morse code, whatever) getting the news right now. You have to pay attention, to read it before it crawls off the screen, and then there's another chunk of news right behind it. They're plucking at your news wires instead of tugging at your heartstrings. "We are too important to ignore," they're telling you. "Only a fool would flip to that other channel when we're telling you right now that it is happening right now! Now!"

Second, it's an old hook: the junk you see rolling by at the bottom is what's coming up, so stay tuned folks! They're betting that you're going to be interested enough in at least one of these little hooks long enough to stay on their channel. It's like the news guy on old television news telling you part of a story before the commercial but not telling you enough to let you ignore the rest of the story: "Tragedy in downtown fire takes the life of area man!" Oh, who could it be? Where? I hope it wasn't someone I know. I must watch...

And because it costs nothing to use (how often do the headlines change? how much skill does it take to change them?), they choose to do it rather than risk looking less urgent than the other guys.
posted by pracowity at 2:48 AM on April 2, 2002

As a graphic designer, I fail to see what the problem is.
--- Kevs


As a graphic designer, you should be concerned with the clear communication of information. As a television graphic designer, it does concern me that this stream of information serves to muddy the information stream, rather than enhance it.
posted by jpburns at 6:28 AM on April 2, 2002

For me it comes down to being distracting. I can't comprehend what the talking-head is saying while processing the information I'm reading. Guess I'm too old at 31!
posted by Hugh2d2 at 6:44 AM on April 2, 2002

Since there's no need to see someone talk in order to understand what they're saying—at least on television, where their heads all move in that fake robotic jerky way without real information being imparted by facial expressions—I'd rather they give me some other useful, informative visual. I'm for the zippers and crawls and insets. If you do a breakdown of your average hour of news on any news channel, eliminating promos, bumpers, commercials, tags, repeats, loops, lead-ins, transitions, etc., you end up with about 17 minutes of useful video. SEVENTEEN MINUTES.

So my conclusion is: Television news is not fulfilling its promise and is wasting my time. Give me more information, and faster, and less non-news. It's all I want.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:50 AM on April 2, 2002

31 must be the cut-off point, then, Hugh2d2--I'm 30 and I love the crawl, the sidebar, everything else.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:35 AM on April 2, 2002

An interesting article that cleverly points out the real problem -- our emotional needs have taken over the newsroom. Of course, disconnected pieces of information have been around since the telegram (Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death covers a lot of ground on this subject). We are all guilty of wanting to know more than everyone else (isnt that what MeFi is all about?), and the media has become astute at feeding this feeling that you are out of touch if you dont watch the news, and scrape every bit of disconnected information off the screen and into your short term memory. They both flatter us and patronize us, to quote Postman "There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devestating... that it cannot be erased from our minds by the newscaster saying, 'Now... this.' The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for 90 seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial."Extrapolated to address the ticker, divide all numbers by 10.
It amazes me how much advertising works off the same principle: congratulations on being brilliant and choosing our brand in your infinite wisdom, now run off and make another 'informed' decision. All the while, the real information (like say, US oil interests in Central Asia, or the real cost of manufacturing those $100 Nikes) is nowhere to be found in mainstream news outlets.

As for images, the reason they're used more and more is because they're less susceptible to bias than words. That's a joke, right?
posted by fellorwaspushed at 11:54 AM on April 2, 2002

Thanks for that Postman quote, fellorwaspushed, and for mentioning the telegraph. Here's the quote this discussion made me think of:

"...most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principal legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the 'information-action ratio.' ... Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action-value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became the context for news. Everything became everyone's business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply."
posted by Dean King at 6:29 PM on April 2, 2002

For me it comes down to being distracting. I can't comprehend what the talking-head is saying while processing the information I'm reading. Guess I'm too old at 31!

A lot of people are making this their main anti-crawl argument, and I think they're missing the point. You're not supposed to be watching the crawl and the video above it at the same time. The crawl is down there for you to read when what's going on above it doesn't interest you.

Anyway, I'm 32 and I love the crawls. I would like the sidebars, if they ever provided any useful information, but they don't. But that's due to bad editorial decisions on the news channels' parts, not bad design.

And, of course, the new CNN Headline News is an absolute design disaster from top to bottom.

By the way, I assume technology will soon make it optional?

I wouldn't count on it, at least not for a few years. The UK and US seem to be taking quite different paths when it comes to digital TV and radio. You can blame the net for this; in the US most people pay a flat monthly rate for local phone service, so they can play on AOL all day and night for free. In the UK, all calls, even local, are charged by the minute, and they've been slower in broadband deployment as well. So there was more of an impetus for them to develop an interactive cable/satellite TV/radio system. We probably wouldn't even have digital cable at all in the US yet if it weren't for DirecTV.
posted by aaron at 7:44 PM on April 2, 2002

Aaron, that's not true. The UK was slower at providing flat-fee internet access than the US, that's true, but it's here now and has been for some time. We've got some of the cheapest dial-up rates in the world. Broadband's a different issue, but that's down to BT.

The reason interactive TV is more developed in the UK is because Sky decided to invest in it. There's a huge audience for digital TV here because the Sky satellite service is cheap and comes with a free digibox. This policy was a very brave one and has sent competitors such as ITV Digital and NTL under. But because there's a huge Sky audience, it has been worth it to people like the BBC and Channel 4 to invest in interactive services, which, incidentally, are very different from the Net and certainly not a replacement. So Sky users have got the most advanced TV service in the world. I know all this because I specialise in writing about interactive TV. I'm available for freelance work at very reasonable rates.
posted by Summer at 6:25 AM on April 3, 2002

The Economics of Attention, by Esther Dyson
posted by sheauga at 6:17 PM on April 6, 2002

crawl aside, McLuhan? That old fraud? Might as well be talking about fellow fraud Castaneda or, for that matter, astrology... He was the flavor of the day once but do any academic types really take him seriously anymore?

And consider the inverse, owillis, can the kids nowadays get truly hip to the pre-video literate world? Just askin'...
posted by y2karl at 6:39 PM on April 6, 2002

Summer: In that case why did Minitel have such an negative effect on Net deployment in France? And why did so many people argue that one of the reasons the net took off so quickly in the US (besides the no-cost-per-minute issue) was because we never had any sort of even one-way instant information delivery service a la Teletext or Ceefax?

Not that I disagree about the effects of the actions of Sky, but there are reasons that Sky decided to do what it did in the first place. Rupert Murdoch could certainly try to start a similar system in the US, where they payoff would potentially be much bigger (both for his bank account and for his ego) but he hasn't done so. Neither has anyone else (though the two big satellite services here are just barely beginning to sorta kinda play with the idea on a so-modest-it-barely-matters level). There are reasons for that.
posted by aaron at 2:21 PM on April 7, 2002

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