Meaningful Reflections in a Sound Bite World

Posted August 19th, 2011 in Culture & Leadership, Personal Reflections by Dr. William (Bill} DeMarco

We live in a world where we have been conditioned by quick
sound bites. On radio and tv, it’s in ten words or less! No
matter what the medium, we insist on top line highly
condensed information. Look at Twitter, with its mandatory 140 characters.  Because of our hectic lives, our subconscious frequently cries out “spare me the details; I don’t have time for anything else!” We tend to view quiet time as either a luxury we can’t afford or an undesirable waste of valuable time. Even worse, we may have become so intellectually lazy we do not want to be challenged!

So what do we get from the quick sound bite approach to life? 
For starters, we get more time for more quick sound bites! 
More significantly, we take a whole lot of risk when we let
others tell us what we should think, feel, do. A meaningful
example would be how we get information needed to make
intelligent decisions about important or meaningful matters in
our lives.

In our work lives, many if not most have grown to prefer top
line or bottom line results over details. Since executives,
managers, and supervisors set the example of what good looks
like within the culture, it doesn’t take long for subordinates be behave in kind.

Spare me the details becomes a lifestyle up
and down the organization. This is easy to check out if you are
so inclined.

Another place to look would be contracts for computer
applications or cell phone services. They go on and on, written
in language specifically designed to encourage the consumer to
go to the “I accept” button quickly. We value short, crisp
language, and these contracts are anything but.  And we are
not discussing the legalese that very few consumers can
properly evaluate, such as insurance policies, mortgage
agreements, tax codes, or contracts of all sorts.  

Another example would be how we consume news in video or
print formats.  I had a friend many years ago who was a foreign
correspondent for a prestigious and particularly well-written
international newspaper.  This was just prior to the days of
CNN.  I remember how appalled David was with the popularity
of the new USA Today because its format was a collection of
brief bites with catchy titles.  Because it had almost no in-
depth reporting, he called it “a ten minute read on a good

In an ideal world, news is really information distilled and
interpreted from hundreds, thousands, and maybe even millions
of bits of data. Our passion for getting to the point and
spare me the details has all too often led to information
passed off as News with little or no supporting data.  My
friend David was prescient about what this would lead to. I was
not!  Far too many societies/individuals have drunk the coolaid
of the unchallenged mind, and have grown to like it.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that a society
that wishes to be free and yet uneducated
expects what never was and never will be. 
He was obviously calling for an informed civil
society, but it has a wider application. We
need to make room in our lives for
meaningful reflections based on a lifetime
commitment to personal education¦finding
enough data we can translate into
information¦ immersing ourselves into other points of view, all
leading to informed decision-making.  

Health gurus have long written about the value of physical
stretching throughout our lives. This is a call for intellectual
stretching. Start with meaningful reflections. The minute we
stop learning for whatever practical reason is the minute we
become the manifestation of Eric Hoffer’s 1963 admonition:
learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves
perfectly equipped to inherit a world that no longer exists.

Meaningful Reflections!  -Dr. Bill DeMarco