The dumbing down of America

Last week on HBO, they reran  CostasNow, a “sort of” sports oriented talk show hosted by Bob Costas, one of this nations most gifted sports authorities, scribes, oracle and overall mouth pieces for all things related to sport.  One of the segments featured  concerned the Internet and the impact of bloggers, as it pertains to sports. The guests were, editor Will Leitch,  Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger, and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

First, let me say that Buzz Bizzinger was so caustic, so adamant, and frankly so foul mouthed in his opinion that the current state of blogging, Deadspin in particular, was taking writing, sports writing in particular, in a direction that demeans everything that he ever stood for, that I had a hard time really agreeing with anything he said regardless of his pulitzer prize winning credentials.

At least I think that’s what he was saying, when he wasn’t yelling and cursing. I was ready for him to blame the demise of sports writing on that “damn rock and roll”! But alas, he didn’t. I’m guessing he’s just a completely jaded sports writer that’s mad that athletes make more than him.

So I sat and watched this exchange and started to think about what has the blogging community, and social media, and really the internet, created? Or what has it taken away? It’s pretty simple to see what is has created. It has created this:

Lots of talking, lots of conversations and lot’s of communication.

But what has happened is that the users expectations are starting to be raised. The user wants to be engaged, entertained and dazzled by the latest technological advance when it comes to communications and media. The days of relying on a newspaper and Time magazine are slowly being replaced by the rise of the blogosphere, the kindle and podcasts.

So are the users expectations rising? Or better yet, are we raising expectations while lowering the barrier to understand and comprehend? Or, dare I say it, are we simplifying the way we want users to get their info? Are we compartmentalizing their intake of information in such a way that it now can be treated as fast food. Information that is gathered at the take-out window. To be digested before you get home.

Funny thing though, the more we as technologists try to simplify things, the more time we demand of others to use the things that will “simplify” our lives. Email streamlines our lives so that we can communicate with our frinds and family. Text messaging so that we can give or receive an immediate response. Our phone allows us to not only call or text but also allows us to go online and do research and or check email! If you’re worn out already and wondering how one folds this time into one’s busy schedule, keep in mind that currently the average American spends 30 hours per month onliine according to emarketer.

If you take into account all of the current activities that a U.S. adult uses the internet for: Email, Local search, IM, blog reading, watching video, and podcasting to name a few-The average internet user needs their info quick and dirty (pun intended), easy to read, to digest and ultimately easy to discard. It can’t be complicated, they don’t have the time nor the patience to wait. If it is any of the former, expect the bounce.

The internet is taking away our patience. We expect our results, our information, to be delivered to us now. What this breeds are expectations in other social settings that might not necessarily be realistic. We wait longer at traffic lights or so it seems, so we run lights that are more red than they are yellow, and for what? Because we don’t want to be late. We grow impatient in a line when trying to check out at a store because the sales person is having trouble with the RFID scanner. We want product now and are unwilling to wait. We expect service now because it’s the way it’s delivered to us online. Fast with no bullshit. If any exists, we are OUT OF THERE.



When they do not meet those expectations, we complain. Why are our experiences online so unrealistic? Because the online world has eliminated the human element. It delivers what we need and want instantly. That is not reality.  Online, the old adage “Good things come to those who wait”, never meant less that ever before.

In turn, if we can get what we want without having to deal with a human, that suits some of us just fine. Some desire as little human interaction as possible. Coupled with our desire to speed up things, is the desire to simplify. These 2 elements have prompted companies and developers to try and speed things up by over simplifying the processes involved in creating the speed. In essence THEY ARE DUMBING THINGS DOWN

Thus the more a developer can dumb down the learning curve by not sacrificing the performance of the app, the higher the chance that it will be embraced by not only the casual user, but also the development comunity as well as investors. Investors love something that is sexy and easy to understand or can be pitched in the elevator. If it can, and it’s fast and solves a problem, and speeds up a process, it’s a winner.

Tim Ferris comes right out and states that he receives 500 to 1000 emails a day…

To contend with this, I have virtual assistants in Canada and sub-assistants in Bangalore who filter my inboxes using processing rules in Google Docs. Connected via Skype and compensated via PayPal, this team translates a 10-hour task into a 20-minute phone call.

Simplification? Hardly. E-mail has dramatically increased the number of coping mechanisms required to handle communication, the net complexity as compared with previous alternatives.

“If the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing.” The wording of this proposition is tricky. To quote Bill Clinton: “It all depends on what the definition of is is.”

Ironically,  Tim is the author of the 4 hour work week and thus may or may not be a good proponent of encouraging more humanistic encounters with a hint of challenging the intellect of the masses. With that being said, Seth Godin puts it pretty bluntly when he says, “When you dumb stuff down, you get dumb customers.”