P037: When a Glance is Enough

Lately I’ve been obsessed with a seed of an idea planted three weeks ago by Dan Shanoff over at Nieman Journalism Lab. Titled “Wearables could make the “glance” a new subatomic unit of news,” Shanoff geeks out about the ever-accelerating pace of the industry and the rise of what he calls “glance journalism” – a piece of news distilled to its bare essence and distributed as opt-in notifications. Money quote:

Glance journalism makes tweets look like longform, typical news notifications (and even innovative atomized news apps) look like endless scroll, and Seward’s list of essential Things (chart, gif, quote, stat) look unresponsive… That is the user experience that the news industry has a pending opportunity to address — the message delivered must be that clear and concise: I’ll describe it as a “neutron of news,” which — if done right — is enough for that moment.

So instead of a never-ending stream of information where the primary unit of currency is “nowness,” the value of a glance rests in relevance, and – thrillingly – contextually-appropriate relevance. Think about that for a second. We already know that our search histories and social interactions are being used to serve us ever-more-targeted advertising. And we currently have some manual control over interruptions from phones and even some people, but this is just the beginning. As our devices become more and more center to our human experience, the information emanating from those devices will by necessity become smarter, less intrusive and infinitely more targeted to the users current state.

How Much is Enough?

For me, the number one knock again the Apple Watch is the idea that I’ll be even more connected than I already am. Because we know so little about how the watch actually works, we’re left to imagine a world where our wrist is buzzing and demanding our attention instead of our pants pockets. To me, that doesn’t sound like a great tradeoff. And it’s not that I’m approaching this from a Luddite’s position – I’m actually super bullish on personal technology – rather, I fell like I’ve reached my capacity for connectivity.

Patrick Rhone is a writer, podcaster and consultant who put out a truly wonderful ebook back in 2012 that touches on some of these themes. In a chapter titled “Use Technology to Enrich, Not Distract,” Rhone absolutely nails it:

[The smartphone’s] ability to distract is only as powerful as our ability to let it do so.

Substituting “smartwatch” (or television, or boss, or kids, or spouse, etc) for “smartphone” gives us a way forward, but it still puts the onus on the user to erect and maintain barriers to protect our sanity.

The Awareness Layer

Just as a thoughtful person wouldn’t bombard their coworkers with email when they are out of the office on paternity leave or bicycling their way across the state (hi guys), thoughtful journalism will leverage the pace of technology to deliver these sub-atomic news particles to the reader at the appropriate time and place. Where today we have human editors and experimental Twitter Bots pushing useful and relevant updates, in the future we will be able to opt-in to a frictionless, self-curated ambient awareness system. It starts with just a little glance, now.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron