I could ask you to bear with me through this urgent and important post, but I’m not optimistic that many people will.
The punchline matters more than it ever has before.
“Show me what this is about before I commit to it.”
And the follow up: “Now that I know what it’s about, I don’t need to commit.”
It started with the coming attractions for upcoming movies. By packing more and more of the punchline into the TV commercial or the theater preview, producers felt like they were satisfying the needs of the audience to know what they were going to see before they bought their ticket. Instead, they trained us to be satisfied by merely watching the attractions. No need to see the movie, you’ve already seen the best part.
SportsCenter piled on by showing fans a supercut of every great or heroic play of the weekend–a sports fix without investing the time or living through the drama of the game itself.
Record albums used to require not only listening to the entire side (no fast forward on an LP) but actually getting up and flipping it over. The radio wasn’t going to play anything but the A side of the single, so if you liked an artist, you surrendered yourself to 45 minutes of her journey, the way she had it in mind.
A performance artist was on the local public radio station the other day. He didn’t want to talk about the specifics of his show, because giving away the tactics was clearly going to lessen the impact of his work. No matter. The host revealed one surprise after another, outlining the entire show, because, after all, that’s his job–to tell us what we’re going to see so we don’t have to see it ourselves.
We don’t want to organize the course or go to the lecture or read the book until we know precisely what it’s going to be about.
College wasn’t like this. You committed to four years, you moved somewhere, and then you saw the curriculum. That’s part of why it works. A huge part.
We hesitate to surrender our commitment so easily today. It’s easier to read the 140 character summary or see the highlights or read the live blog, so we can check the box and then move on.
But move on to where?
To another box to be checked? We become like the tester in the ice cream factory, surrounded by thousands of flavors, but savoring none of them.
We each have a fixed amount of time. One thing you can do is invest it in knowing the summary of what 23 people said. The other thing you can do is to commit to living and breathing and learning from one of those people. Perhaps you will get more by being exposed more deeply to fewer.
One reason an audiobook can change your life is that you can’t skip ahead. And the other reason is that you might listen to it five or six times, at the pace of the reader, not at your pace.
My full-day live seminars have impact on people partly because I don’t announce the specific agenda or the talking points in advance. It’s live and it’s alive. I have no certainty what’s about to happen, and neither do the others in the room. A morphing, changing commitment by all involved, one that grows over time.
Yes, I get that there’s never again going to be a need to buy an album or to listen to all the songs in order, that you can get the quick summary of any book you’re expected to have read, that your time is so valuable that perhaps the only economic choice is to live a Cliffs Notes version of your life.
[Oh, that’s right, Cliffs Notes’ sales are way down because they’re too long.]
In fact, you could do that, but when you do, you’ve surrendered to efficiency and lost some life, some surprise and a lot of growth.