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Social media is getting faster, more malice, and stealing our attention span. Should we go back to slower times?
"Online slow-living" might sound like a bizarre concept in the fast-paced digital age, but it's a term that resonates with the growing sentiment that our online experiences are becoming increasingly frantic and overwhelming. The internet, particularly social media, has evolved drastically since the early days of platforms like Facebook and YouTube. The transition from the YouTube era to the TikTok era offers a fascinating perspective on the acceleration of online content and the diminishing attention spans of users.
To understand this transformation, let's delve into some data. In the YouTube era, which can be roughly categorized as the mid-2000s to the early 2020s, video content was characterized by longer formats. Content creators often produced videos that ranged from 10 minutes to over an hour. This allowed for in-depth discussions, tutorials, and storytelling. Users were willing to invest their time in these videos, and YouTube was a platform where people actively sought out information and entertainment.
However, the TikTok era, which gained significant traction in the mid-2010s and continues to thrive, has ushered in a new era of micro-content. TikTok videos are typically limited to 15 to 60 seconds, pushing creators to convey their messages quickly and concisely. This shift has transformed the landscape of online content consumption. The average length of online videos has significantly decreased, reflecting the demand for shorter, easily digestible content. In 2020, a survey conducted by the video marketing company Wistia found that the ideal video length for maximum engagement was around two minutes, a stark contrast to the longer videos of the YouTube era. I have a travel vlog that I run, and the average viewing time is only 1 minutes max. This discourages me from creating longer-form contents.
This trend has brought about numerous consequences. First and foremost, it has led to a substantial decrease in attention spans. Research has shown that the average human attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2020. The proliferation of bite-sized content on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter has contributed to this decline. People are accustomed to quickly scrolling through their feeds, consuming content in small, easily digestible portions. This habit has made it challenging for long-form content to capture and maintain the audience's attention.
Another effect of the shift from long-form to short-form content is the rise of passive consumption. In the YouTube era, viewers actively sought out content, often dedicating time to watch a single video or series of videos. This active engagement encouraged critical thinking, learning, and exploration. In contrast, the TikTok generation tends to passively consume content, scrolling through an endless stream of short videos. This passive approach to online content consumption reduces the opportunity for active learning and critical thinking.
The concept of "online slow-living" suggests a way to counter these trends.
The term might sound cringe. But it’s not, really. Basically, I want to encourage us to return to a more deliberate and mindful online experience. This could involve creating and consuming content that requires more time and attention. Writing blogs or longer articles, even if they are not at a professional level, allows for deeper exploration of topics. It challenges both creators and consumers to invest more in the content, fostering critical thinking and active engagement.
Today’s generation might not be aware of blogs. Back in 2000s up to 2010, blogs were the popular form of content delivery online, way before videos and short-forms. Back then, everybody would sign up for account for blogs on Blogger and Wordpress, some purchase their own domains, and deliver daily or weekly updates on their life. Similar to what we have now with Instagram, suprisingly, but a bit more complex and should I say… unique and private?
Here are few examples of blogs, from personal to themed:
I featured blogs as excellent example of “online slow-living” because it allows us to have more authentic experience of the person behind it, and a bit more in-depth look into their thoughts. Many say blogs are dead, I think it’s because nobody or fewer people make the effort to access the URLs and read them, unless they come from search engines. But not getting viewership can be a blessing, it makes it more intentional to read people’s minds, and those who seek out will value the relationship even more, away from the “growth” gimmicks like likes, followers, and watch times. Instead of endlessly scrolling through feeds, people would actively seek out content they find interesting. This shift from passive consumption to active engagement aligns with the idea of taking control of one's online experience and choosing quality over quantity.
While short-form contents have their place, there should also be room for well-researched, in-depth content that delves into complex subjects. The "slow-living" approach prioritizes information that is thoughtful, informative, and designed to provoke thought, rather than just providing instant entertainment.
At a personal level, if you’re doing it just for yourself, it allows us to create a chronicle of our lives in a more consistent and coherent manner, and we can go back to it in the future anytime. It also provides an outlet for us to manage our thoughts and feelings, and avoid bursts of emotion or anger. It lets us pause, think and ponder.
Is this restricted to blogs? Of course not, even Youtube videos have an alternative. I always like how some Youtubers actually go deep into reviews. Because I like photography, my favourite is Mark Galer who reviews Sony camera and lenses. He does it almost in a lecture-like format, but still not too hard to follow.
Then, I also like more content-focused videos like Ted Forbes from The Art of Photography, where he sometimeas discusses about theories and dig deep into themes.
Or even, even if we can’t make it too long, we can instead focus more unique personal content, like my favourite Indonesian-origin American photographer Faizal Westcott. He sometimes discusses gears but most of the time he discusses about his photography philosophy.
As I mentioned, there’s also a mental health benefits to this idea, both from the giver and receiver of information. The constant barrage of short, attention-grabbing content can be mentally exhausting. Slowing down the pace of online consumption can reduce the stress associated with the digital world, promoting a more relaxed and thoughtful approach to content.
Moreover, I think this can foster a sense of community and connection. When people actively seek out and engage with meaningful content, it can lead to more profound discussions and interactions with like-minded individuals. These deeper connections can be a remedy to the often shallow and divisive interactions that dominate social media.
You might also ask — will people consume and read these? If I want to create content to make money, I have to follow what the crowd wants (short-forms)!
Yes, you are right in that sense. By all means, if your audience does benefit from it, do short-forms. What I am encouraging here is at least for a personal level, we can start to think about creating and experimenting again on slower consumption of content, starting from ourselves to try to read longer article or bracing ourselves for longer video content. Then, actively seek out information online, try to not only consume short-forms that are being fed to you through For You Pages.
Hopefully, by encouraging this behaviour starting from ourselves, we can collectively move towards a more balanced way to consume information online that can benefit everyone.
In conclusion, "online slow-living" is a response to the rapidly changing landscape of the internet, where content has become shorter and attention spans have diminished. The transition from the YouTube era to the TikTok era reflects a significant shift in the way we consume and create content. To counter the negative effects of this shift, we can choose to slow down, prioritize quality over quantity, and actively seek out content that enriches our lives. This approach not only promotes critical thinking and active engagement but also supports our mental well-being and helps us build deeper, more meaningful connections in the digital world. Hopefully this blog of mine is an embodiment of that.