The simple fact of the matter is there are not that many news-worthy events that happen in a day. But, the amount of content is exploding. So, here’s what happens:
1. Something happens
2. People talk about what happened
3. People talk about what people said about what happened
4. People try to link what people said about what people said about what happened to a grand unifying theory
Let’s look at an example:
1. An earthquake strikes Haiti
2. Twitter blows up, reporting the conditions on the ground
3. The blogosphere talks about how Twitter is such an essential communication method for natural disasters
4. Mainstream media discusses how technology infrastructure is a key component of rebuilding disaster areas, because Haiti must build back better
In this example, the conversation quickly moved away from Haiti, to the technological implications of communicating during disasters, to technological infrastructure being important. And we have moved so far away from the millions of Haitians that are without reliable food and water that they are almost an afterthought.
This process of abstracting everything has sped up to a dizzying rate. Of course, technology has made it possible, but the real reason that we can abstract faster is because we have trained our brains to connect data points more quickly. By breaking down concepts into smaller, bite-sized nuggets, we can absorb what’s going on faster, synthesize it, and churn it back out to put it into context for the world.
So, the human processing cycles get faster at an exponential rate. But, the amount of things happening might grow linearly. That means that more people are analyzing, contextualizing, and adding commentary. Once all of the opinions are out there, the only place left to go is to comment on the commentary.
So, how do we add value into the information stream? There are four primary ways:
1. Be fast: And by fast, I mean *really* fast. Twitter is near real-time, so you’d best have the hottest retweet button around. Or set up some automated systems to do it for you. That’s how CNN Breaking News’s Twitter feed started – it was a simple scrape of the CNN site, set up to automatically tweet everything it came across.
2. Be pretty fast, and say something important: This is the territory that newspaper editorials have traditionally covered. You could squeak out a day to shape your thoughts before adding commentary and analysis to an event. To fill this role, you have to be a trusted and influential voice. Typically this comes through a platform that commands respect, like newspapers, large blogs, or substantial personal platforms.
3. Contextualize for your niche: There are myriad of angles on any particular event. Each one of them needs someone to analyze the event from their own niche. This is just like music mashups – take two concepts, and put them together. The disaster relief community had a pretty straightforward job when discussing the earthquake in Haiti. But, there are angles for every community. There’s an angle for “farming” + “Haiti.” There’s another for “transportation” + “Haiti.” And another for “crafting” + “Haiti.” Each one of these communities has a voice.
4. Create the grand unifying theories: If you can put all of the pieces together in a unifying way, you can take a little bit more time. You can step back and observe a landscape, watch actions play out, then draw conclusions that are more substantial, and possibly more profound.
Typically, most people work toward moving from #2 or #3 to #4. But, there are strong needs for each of these roles.
Where do you fit in to this meaning-making framework? Let us know in the comments.