Much of modern life seems to be about balancing opposing forces.  The issues we face are more complex than ever, each having many detailed facets we need to consider.  Yet the fire hose flow of information that comes at us 24/7 challenges our coping mechanisms such that we beg for quick sound bites.

Blogging and Twitter

Ever since I started writing “the Bridge”, I’ve been reading books on blogging.  They consistently tell me to keep my posts short.  I consistently fail to follow that advice.  Those who know me well are not surprised.

Although most articles could be edited to be more succinct, I find it hard to shorten the content without losing the nuances of the point.  Yes, I’m sure for most posts I could give you a 140 character summary, but the path to the point is usually essential for understanding.

I’ve gotten into Twitter lately.  It’s an interesting phenomenon.  Share whatever in 140 characters.  It has certainly led to some creativity — cutting out words, increasing abbreviations and new programs to automatically shorten Internet links.  Twitter certainly has appeal for our short little spans of attention.  Yet it has exponentially increased that fire hose pointed at me and challenged many of us to say anything meaningful in such a short burst.

I see three kinds of comments most often on Twitter — brief descriptions of what one is doing or thinking, lots of quotes, and an enticing blurb followed by a tiny URL “hooks”  to take you to another site.  These last ones reflect our work around on the 140 character limitation.  It’s like the tweets are fishing — the bait is the brief comment to grab your interest, the link is the hook to take you somewhere.  Obviously marketers use it for selling.  Many use it (as do I) to take you to another site where we can go down the rabbit hole into the complexities of a point.  We’re balancing those opposing forces I mentioned.

Letters to the Editor

Recently I wrote a letter to the editor of the Christian Science Monitor.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear they were considering publishing my letter.  I had to give my concurrence so they could edit it to fit.  My edited letter appears in their June 7, 2010 issue.  (Link to their Letters to the Editor page)

An unedited version of my letter (with slight variation) was previously posted on “the Bridge” as the article entitled “Our Fingers Point to the Moon Just As Our Religions Point to God“.  I knew my letter was way too long for complete publication.  My wife tells me that what was published makes sense, but I’m not so sure.  Maybe it does and I’m just too close to the content.

The Monitor is one of the better publications for outlining the details of complex global issues.  I highly recommend it.  However, reading their edited version of my letter highlighted even their ongoing challenge for simplifying complex matters.

President Obama’s Balancing Act

The same issue of the Monitor describes how President Obama is “faring on message control”.  It describes how he is dealing with this balancing act of complex issues and short sound bite messaging.

On the one hand, Obama is using social media — blogs, Facebook and Twitter — to message to us.  The Administration provides short bursts to keep us fed on what they’re doing.

The traditional way in which presidents have given us short answers to complex issues has been in White House correspondent press conferences.  Interestingly, Obama is using this mechanism much less than his predecessors.  Seeking to feed a never ending daily need for concise bullet point content, the White House corps have been frustrated by the reduction in these Q&A sessions.  They want to ask Obama a short question to a complex issue and get a short answer that they can quote.

Yet on the other hand, Obama has tripled the number of extended one-on-one interviews to reporters compared to his predecessors.  These interviews allow him the opportunity to explain the nuances of complex issues as well as foster deeper relationships with the interviewer.

Many (especially the media) may want short concise answers from the White House on extremely complex matters but that may not always serve our best interest.

How Do You Balance Complexity and Information Overload?

My wife and I are going on vacation to Europe shortly and I’ve been planning the details.  Each place we are visiting has more to see and do and we have time.  Online one can find extensive reviews of every hotel, restaurant and entertainment venue.  Putting the itinerary together led me into information overload.  Too many places, too many choices.

Scientific studies have shown that when humans are presented with too many choices, they become unable to choose.  It’s called analysis paralysis.  I experienced that in my vacation planning.  At one point, I finally told myself to make a choice and move on.  Be happy with your choice and quit second-guessing it.

Modern life is what it is.  Yes, we have access to all the world’s information instantaneously at our fingertips 24 hours a day.  Yes, this information can tend to overwhelm.  Yes, our world is faced with extremely complex issues.  The more we look at an issue, the more we see how everything is connected.  Part of our evolutionary path is a growing realization that everything is interconnected.

So what can we do?  How can we best navigate this world? The answer is in being aware.  Be aware that the complexities of life don’t always lend themselves to 140 character answers.  Be aware that our incessant flow of information causes us to want to retreat into 140 character answers.  Recognize this dynamic tension within you and balance it consciously.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!