A couple of decades ago it was the usual thing to declare oneself overwhelmed: by mass media, advertising, the demands of the professional world, the juggling circus-act of family life, the swirl and churn of politics.
You could barely hear yourself think straight. And those were the good old days.
Then the smartphone tipped us into the realm of continual static. There’s no denying that the decade since the rise of the pocket computer and the ubiquity of social media have altered the landscape of what goes on between our ears.
It’s not only that we’re inundated with messages, but as the messages have become too many to count, they’ve also splintered and fragmented. They come at us customized, crafted to fit our predilections and prejudices, machine-shopped and focused directly at us—all the while operating on old assumptions of marketing and advertising, both of which were founded on principles of manipulation and diversion.
Which is why they don’t work anymore. A funny thing happened between then and now: We’ve trained our minds to be more discerning. It’s really a matter of self-defense, or self-preservation—the cacophony around us has become static. The advertising message doesn’t penetrate. We’re inundated in online ads targeted to our Google searches and demographic profiling, most of which we ignore.
We hear marketing slogans and recognize them as inauthentic, pre-tested attempts to captivate our attention in ways that used to work when their creators first got into their business. The goal is the same—to connect, to influence, to transmit. But we’ve managed to create an invisible fog around each of us that is terribly difficult to pierce.
It’s probably the supreme irony of this digital-drenched moment that the best way to reach people today is with one of the most primal tools in our arsenal: authenticity through story. A true voice, speaking plainly, framing reality through narrative’s power—that’s the chord that breaks through the static, the laser light that gleams through the thickest mist.
The ways of delivering these stories—long, short, and in-between—are a mix of old and new. Print isn’t going anywhere, but what that means is being determined every day. Social media and digital delivery are as powerful as advertised (humor intended), but in those realms we’ve all ingested a century’s worth of clickbait that doesn’t work as well as it did a few short years ago and soon will lose the power to influence (because it never had value, or truth).
The voice that speaks clearly, with intent, with truth, and with value: That’s what’s being heard today. And once you hear it, you know you want to listen—because you’ve been aching for it for years.
By Quinton Skinner
Quinton is a writer, editor, novelist, storyteller, and communications consultant