Advancements in technology and design always produce a familiar refrain from older generations — that the youngins’ constant use of gadgets makes them soft and lazy, and it’s all part of a culture that’s increasingly reliant on instant gratification. We had to walk three miles uphill in the snow — both ways! — to hear from loved ones or receive reward for a job well done, they say with a signature indigence. We roll our eyes and return to the lovingly rounded corners of our phones, unfazed by the latest pot shot taken at our deepest, darkest sin, the year in which we were born. But are they onto something? Are we millennials and Gen Z-ers the shepherds of a digital society devoid of patience, hard work, and honesty?
If you still have the gastric fortitude to pay attention to the news, bless your heart, you have some sense of the broader symptoms. Think about your news consumption — when was the last time you read past the headline of an article? News outlets, shorter and shorter on cash, take to sensationalized, depthless click-baiting to secure your increasingly divided attention. Those hallowed few institutions that still do meaningful work have to plead for subscriptions to stay afloat. But unless you have a considerable amount of time in your day to dedicate to reading journalism that’ll leave you feeling miserable regardless of its underlying quality, you are left to scrounge for ten-second sound bites, stripped of all context and nuance.
Time-starved people with short attention spans are victims of a larger, cyclical problem. At the finish line of this race to the bottom is a society that demands we sell our souls for a paycheck and produces for an average of averages that doesn’t exist. Working people have insufficient time and insufficient money to divide amongst a growing litany of things that require our day-to-day attention. We have been rendered unable to engage properly with each other and the world, and in turn, the system will not provide properly for us.
In design and in the larger problems that face us, the key in working out solutions is to devote time and attention to nuance and include oddballs and outliers, whether this late-stage-capitalist quagmire allows it to be workable or not. We must collectively resist the urge to streamline and water-down our ideas to aim to the broadest audience. We can extinguish every last fire — be it in California, Siberia, or the Amazon — but we only if we accept that no one strategy can tackle them all.
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