Micro-bios. Status statements. Tweetable summaries. And I thought the 90-second elevator speech was a toughie!
We classify ourselves and our beliefs as though packaging up a product for the next commercial announcement. We’re “pro” this and “anti” that. We’re in a hurry.
I do it myself, without realizing.
We’ve all grown accustomed to the latest labels, competing voices, the surface of a story which really deserves thoughtful investigation – or at the very least, a proper reading.
Like all of us, I’m a product of pop culture. I’m dashing through my days and trying to digest more information than is humanly possible, while attempting to reduce involved concepts to the down-and-dirty drift of the matter.
Resorting to sound bites.
And I need to pay attention. To remind myself to pay attention. As Wiki defines it, the sound bite is a useful tool, with caveats:
characterized by a short phrase or sentence that deftly captures the essence of what the speaker is trying to say
However, you run the risk of misrepresentation, you lack context, and an ample dose of journalistic ethics is required.
Fine. That’s journalism, you’re thinking. And how does this apply to everyday life?
Facebook Fun and Sound Bite Sound-Offs
Yesterday, an incident came up in a Facebook exchange. Or rather, the exchange got me to pondering how easy it is to favor rapid fire reactions over reasoned responses, and enthusiasm over exactitude. In other words – to use a label rather than explain, and even – to use a label that makes little sense – when you think about it.
In a short dialog with another writer, over issues of marriage and divorce, I took exception to the term “pro-divorce.” I wrote:
I think the term “pro-divorce” makes for good marketing, but it’s a bit like “pro-life” – who ISN’T “for” life, and who ISN’T unhappy about divorce? These are quickie classifications that rile us up and are ultimately divisive and unproductive… By the way, would you say you were “pro-marriage” or “anti-marriage?” Just another example. I’m neither; recognizing that marriage is an institution which likely needs tinkering, but it’s up to each couple to shape it to their needs, in my personal opinion.
To situate this bit of sharing, the person I was communicating with wasn’t the first to use the term. In fact she used it in reference to its appearance elsewhere. We all use terms like this to get a point across – and that’s my point. Sometimes it isn’t until we stop and reconsider them that we realize they’re defeating our purpose.
Here’s the dilemma. We become inured to the actual meaning of what we say as we find ourselves immersed in popular (or political) jargon. We dilute – if not distort – original intentions.
Use Your Words! (Me, Too)
There are no villains in this scenario, only participants in a society in which precision is sacrificed to sensationalism, and quick classifications shove aside more measured evaluation. Anxious to be heard, we cut corners, rely on buzzwords, and spar rather than listen.
Not only do we lessen the power of well chosen words, but we lose the habit of considered discussion of complex issues. We dismiss the depth of the subject matter, or the breadth of possible interpretations.
I’ve written about my concern for the damaging effects of lazy language – specifically with regard to women and self-esteem. My example – the interjection of “just” into our speech, diminishing authority as softening our message.
This is a different issue of course, but at its heart sits a neighboring problem – our cultural impatience, our reliance on social media, and our growing desire for the sound bite alone, and its simplicity in providing a neat (forgettable) and brief (misleading) so-called “answer.”
So what’s the solution? Should we turn back the clock? Should we quit social media?
There is no turning back. And nor would we want to. Social media has its utility, and in that oversimplification lies a partial response. We do need to stop and think about the words we use, the way we use them, and the appropriate usage of our feeds and “friends.”
Here are a few “pro” words that I’m very much in favor of. Professional. Proactive. Productive.
And I’m very much “pro” recognizing that we all have our own perspectives; that life holds few absolutes, but rather – perception through a personal lens. My fact is your fiction; my fantasy is your reality.
I certainly don’t exempt myself from the tendency to toss an abbreviated tidbit into the world – in conversation with my kids, my friends, or even in writing. At times it’s just right, it’s useful, it’s entertaining. But when it comes to my profession, and daily communications – rushed, crushed, with conflicting priorities and dizzying deadlines like the rest of you, I hope I can remind myself to be a pro rather than prefix with -pro.
And dispense with sound bites which do serious topics a disservice.
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