A common insult used today to shut down people with different opinions than your own is “I see your lips moving, but I can’t hear a word you’re saying”. I’m not sure if Pink Floyd‘s Roger Waters had the same meaning in mind when he wrote the words Your Lips Move, But I Can’t Hear What You’re Saying, circa 1976, but I do know that in the age of social networking and the shrinking world of The Internet, we’re getting sloppy with how we communicate.
This is not a business change you want to emulate.
In the last few days, I’ve come across several examples of imprecise speech that not too long ago wouldn’t have happened—or at least wouldn’t have made the rounds so quickly. Imprecise speech is a subject that’s often on my mind. I’m often accused of speaking too precisely; so much so that I come off like a professor even in common conversation. But I have a second speed that kicks in when I’m comfortable; I speak too imprecisely. This leaves the people around me to interpret my rhetoric and hyperbole without enough clues for that to be a reasonable thing to expect.
On the Internet, this is a problem. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional journalist, someone just throwing his opinion “out there” on Twitter, or one of the too-many-people-in-the-middle-of-the-pack.
The transformation of journalism is something I’ve written about quite a few times. Whether it’s something relatively unimportant like The Chink in The Armor of Journalism Caused by Linsanity or a more meaty topic like the damage done to journalism by poseurs like MG Siegler, our always-on world has made getting objective information incredibly difficult. And as magazines that once held themselves to high standards have transformed to online-dominated vehicles with content created by people who couldn’t have gotten through J-School a couple of decades ago, let alone be paid to write, the noise-to-signal ratio has gotten out of control.
In yesterday’s New York Times this article on tweeting about political campaigns shone light on laws that there’s no good reason to expect people to know exist; when your 140-character pulpit is constantly live, that’s an even bigger problem than tweeting about mold in your apartment.
Your Lips Move But I Can’t Hear What You’re Saying
On the lighter side, there’s this not-really-worth-calling-a-review piece from PCWorld. It says almost nothing and is about a topic so narrow as to have no audience worth worrying about. But how did the phrase “Given its modest price and diminutive memory footprint, FastStone Capture delivers an impressive set of features” get past an editor? There might be a relationship between price and feature set, but can you think of how memory footprint is part of that conversation? Me neither.
Then there’s this one:
The other day, David Pogue, a guy who’s come up here many times, tweeted the availability of an article he wrote for Scientific American. I get it—and I do it constantly; promote, promote, promote. But if you follow Pogue’s link to “the article“, you’ll find that you can’t read the whole thing. What was Dave promoting? He has no incentive to send his already-loyal followers down a dead end that only benefits the publishers of Scientific American, does he? (and by the way, is legally obligated to say so if he does).
I suspect that none of the transgressors knew they were being “bad”. But that leaves us little choice but to circle back to where we started. On the Internet, you need to be careful what you say, because everything that comes out of your mouth or your keyboard is being watched, dissected, and potentially used against you. And you’re talking to more people in more ways than you’re likely to have thought about.
Of course you could employ the opposite strategy: just spit it all out and wait to see what falls where.
Either way, I have a recommendation: try honesty. It works. Even when it comes to something as simple as bread.