Friday, 27 November 2009

Too Much Information: a big thought in three short minutes

What a day. The APG's Battle of Big Thinking had joy, tears, insight, and that fizzy water that nobody likes but still shows up all the time at these kinds of things. And what a joy to see big brains (and hearts too) running free and happy. Every slot had a different appeal, but the true standouts seemed to be (with a couple of examples but there are many, many more)

  • people who gave us a new view on things (Peter Sells / @sellsy)
  • people who got nice and angry (@RobinWightUK, @katylindemann)
  • people with a story to tell (@amelia_torode)
  • people who scared us shitless with really very impressive thinking (@guymurphy - a prize well won)
And oh yes! I had a great time too. Even with the now-worse-for-wear yellow sheets. 

I present to you, Too Much Information:

Hello everyone.
Are we all having an informative time? I'm loving it. I couldn't feel more clever right now! It's just after lunch, so so far we're up to about...9 month's of our "year's thinking in a day". A YEAR. In a DAY. Gosh. Is anyone a little bit exhausted? My big thought is more of a big question: of what you've heard today... how much will you remember? And of what you remember, how much can you really learn and make use of in the next week, month, year?

You see, the current state of communications - especially in our little universe here - is self-destructive in thinking that we can absorb so much as we experience it. That is a fantasy. Here's the reality: we have built for ourselves a world of Too Much Information.

And the Battle of Big Thinking is the very worst offender. As I said before I'm having a great time, and my thanks go to everyone speaking today individually but what we're being sold is this [single lightbulb of APG logo] when in fact it's more like this [photo of loads of lightbulbs, the only slide]. Ask yourselves: would you subject your child to a year's school in a day? For those of you that don't have one, would you eat a year's supply of pies in a day?

Of course you wouldn't. All our biological systems have limits and adult learning is no exception. You can hear what I'm saying to you as fast I say it, but - as anyone who has learned to ride a bike, drive a car, or operate TGI knows - learning anything takes time, repetition, and reflection.

And yet, the very fabric of our culture is set up to deny and discourage these things. Conventional media, new media, blogs, aggegators, the very way we talk to each other and structure our days ALL reinforce the idea that you can sail across the surface of knowledge and still pick something up. I was talking to this guy in the break; I said, "pretty good, isn't it?" and he said "yeah, but I think you could rattle through each one in about two minutes". What kind of life is that?? That's a pretty dangerous dogma to live by. And if anyone thinks that perhaps their memory is more robust than all that, I ask you: can you remember what you ate for dinner on Tuesday? Most people can't. I can, but only because I was eating it when I wrote this bit.

Now, we have a choice. 2010 will be the year when the elastic band of human concentration either relaxes a little, or snaps. If we want it to be the former, we will have to discipline ourselves to channel our curiosity in productive, focused ways. And we'll have to build the tools to help us: Google is so popular because it is the first of such tools, designed to give you what you want and nothing else. It unravels information rather than multiplying it.

Changing behaviour, changing technology: these are two massive challenges for us as a society but for us as marketers, it's more like an inspiring brief. Our brief, if we're brave, is to help people through the noise of their lives - NOT by shouting them down, but by drawing them into our worlds, providing them with places of respite from the plethora of ideas. Or, for those of us who are even braver, it could be to create things with little-to-no involvement at all that still change behaviour. Some people call this stuff 'behavioural economics'.

Whatever we do, my point is this: we are about to transcend the information epoch to a post-information age of focus. And, as the busiest communicators in society, we have the duty, and the opportunity to do this in the best possible way.

Thanks a lot.

Bonus Easter Egg: That Paper...

And that was it. The whole day was awesome, and hopefully there'll be videos of all the fantastic speeches before long. Next year, I'll put up the deck I threw out on Saturday. Way too long for 3 minutes but it gives you a good idea how all the stuff above came about.

Hooray for big thinking. Here's to the next one!


  1. You were robbed James.

    Good luck with the Mocks.


  2. You are allowed to say you won your section. No one will think you're a prat.
    Should have won the whole thing anyway.

  3. Peter, you made everyone laugh and listen. YOU were robbed. What’s tragic is that people’s natures mean they’re more likely to remember that delivery than your great points… is there any chance you’ll put it online? I’d understand if self-promotion isn’t really your thing, but I’d really like to read it.

    Oh, and that gambling algorithm wouldn't go amiss either.

  4. Jon - I think we'd all won before we started speaking; there's no way I could've afforded a ticket. Credit is due to Guy for overcoming a massive recency bias and saying things that I still remember today (which kind of defeats my argument). It would have been nice to win but a few people have told me they're thinking about what I said. And that's good enough for a first try.

    Oh, and I think as a group, we hopefully secured the future of open mic which is definitely worth something, no?

  5. Well done you are a winner! Wish I could have been there. I'm so proud :)


Sound off on your big crazy opinions here please... and if you have a longer piece, send it in and we'll put it up all nice and in full :)