The fact that the way we access and process information is now vastly different than in the pre-Google era is hardly news – but does it impact the way we see the world (and the motorcycling world)?
Recently, I was tasked with writing an article for a well-known life coach who needed content for his blog. As I submitted the first draft, his feedback was, “Shorten the paragraphs. People don’t read, they skim. Make it skimmable”. Bristling at his merciless attack on my beloved paragraphs, I began composing a Strongly Worded Email in my head, explaining my literary structures and the organic flow of the story…but I never wrote that email – instead, I edited the draft and sent off a revised version. After all, I was hired to produce a product, not an opinion. And, whatever my opinion, the coaching guru was right: people do not read anymore, they do indeed skim, long paragraphs are out, and if you don’t convey the message or the information in short listicles and infographics, you’re dead in the water – or at least, dead to Google.
But while this is certainly true for most media, blogs, and website copy, is it also true for motorcycle media? Do we just skim the headlines and the first few sentences and move on? And if so, what is the impact?
The Age of Efficiency
In his article Is Google Making Us Stupid? (and his equally brilliant book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain), author Nicholas Carr argues that our tendency to skim headlines and bounce from one site to another doesn’t just affect the way we read, but also the way we think. The inability to read anything longer than a couple of paragraphs and the constant scanning and clicking on links affects the ability to retain information and, perhaps even worse, to understand the context. The more you skim and click, the more sound bites you collect, but the harder it is to make connections between them. As Umberto Ecco has said, “browsing is like looking at an encyclopedia; T comes after S, so Tamerlane follows salamander, but what is the connection between the two?”.
When it comes to motorcycle media, context is somewhat less relevant: there’s no need to have a deep understanding of motorcycling history to enjoy an article on vintage bikes. But with adventure motorcycling – specifically, the traveling part – context can be vital. Someone’s story about riding Patagonia will be much more impactful if you have a general understanding of the geography, history, and cultures of South America.
In addition to our changing reading habits (print may yet save us, albeit temporarily), the very way we consume media has changed, too. Streaming, YouTube, and social media all contribute to the skim-and-bounce culture: if one YouTuber starts to sound boring after the initial two or three minutes, viewers jump to another channel, another Instagram feed, another Facebook discussion; unsurprisingly, following the consumer behavior, content creators adapt to the trend and, like my life coach client, produce content that is simplified, faster to absorb, easier to consume.
Motorcycle media is also riding the listicle wave: quick news, headlines containing half the information of the article, three-hundred-word sound bites, and Top Ten/Best/Newest lists abound, forcing the reader to click through as fast as possible. On the one hand, sure, it’s efficient – we can now research and access information at remarkable speeds. On the other hand, efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean quality.
As someone who grew up with books and haven’t heard of Google until I was in my twenties, I still savor long-form content in all its shapes – long articles and books, layered stories with plenty of context and character, long videos and movies that take their time to develop the idea slowly, social media captions that offer ideas and interesting angles rather than a couple of hashtags; I realize it’s a privilege to have the time to read and get carried away, but even so, there’s a certain long-term ROI in having read an entire book, understanding the context, and having the history as opposed to skimming over 20 different pieces of content, learning a few quick facts, and forgetting it all the next day.
Perhaps reading will meet the same fate as print and become a luxury pastime. Print hasn’t died, it simply became a thing of extravagant indulgence; chances are, reading will become an outrageous pursuit, ridiculed by the overly efficient click-and-scroll majority. Or perhaps we will become so accustomed to being fast information processors we’ll forget what it’s like to lose the sense of time engrossed in a story altogether. Being engrossed, after all, is not efficient, nor does it please the almighty Algorithm.
Of course, the purpose of media isn’t always about deeper understanding or learning; it can be entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with having fun scrolling through an Instagram feed or clicking through several short articles just to have a little distraction.
Still, one of my all-time favorite articles here on ADV Rider is “Why hasn’t an American won the Dakar?” by Scot Harden. an American has, in fact, won a Dakar since the article was written – but it’s still relevant because instead of listing Top Ten Dakar Hopefuls or giving a quick, two-sentence explanation, Harden weaves the story providing history, context, and personal experiences.
What’s your take? How do you consume motorcycle media, and what would you like to see more of?