Posted by: kevinliebl | May 1, 2009

What do Twitter and Devo have in common?



Remember Devo, the 80’s new wave band with the hit song “whip it”?  I had a friend in college (Steve) that explained the “philosophy” of Devo to me one night.  Honestly, I didn’t realize Devo had much of a belief system, but as he explained it to me, the name Devo was short for “de-evolution”.  The belief was that due to rapid industrialization and technological advances, human beings were “de-evolving”.  Devo (and their hard-core fans) believed that we are becoming less intelligent over time because we rely too much on technology to do things that we should do for ourselves.  One example he gave to me was how we have lost the ability to do math in our heads because of calculators.  You can say the same thing about juggling a calendar in your head.  I remember a time when I could keep a week’s worth of meetings in my head.  Today, I can barely remember what I am doing this afternoon without looking at my iPhone.  I remember thinking that while he was nuts, there was a bit of truth in what he was saying.  Devo fans worshiped the potato because they believed (as Steve explained to me) that the human race would de-evolve to a potato one day.  This was the nuts part…

I’ve been thinking about Steve and Devo recently.  When I was young, I would save my money to buy a record album.  I would peel off the plastic and listen to the album in its entirety and benefit from the entire experience.  Today, my kids buy one song at a time on iTunes.  They not only miss out on the album experience (this is a tragedy), but they would never have the patience to listen to an album all the way through.  Honestly, they have a hard time listening to an entire SONG all the way through.  They typically listen to 30 seconds of a song on their iPod and then jump to a new one.

I worry that our attention span is getting shorter and shorter.  Does anyone read the newspaper cover to cover anymore?  Or have we become a society of headlines?  I am a perfect example.  I get my newsfeeds on my iPhone and can scan the WSJ headlines, but I rarely have the time to digest the entire articles.  This is causing us to have a broad and near-instantaneous understanding of the news, but with no depth.  People remind me to keep my blogs short because the average reader doesn’t want to read anything longer than 500 words.

This brings me to Twitter and micro-blogging.  Are we not programming ourselves to think in 140 character sound-bytes?  Our lives are revolving around text messages and 140 character “tweets”.  I’m not saying that Twitter will cause the collapse of society as we know it.  To be fair, I am huge fan of Twitter.  It is one tool in the toolbag of social networking.  What I worry about is how it will replace other tools and become the mainstream of communication because we have lost our attention span for longer, more thoughtful forms of communication.

It just makes me wonder if Steve and the other fans of Devo were on to something…  As a society, is instant gratification being satisfied by technology advances to the point that we are too lazy to exercise our mental capacity?  I should probably end this blog here because I am at 570 words…


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  1. Kevin…great thoughts. I was just thinking the same thing the other day. When we were forced to write down appointments we always knew what our schedule looked like and now the constant stream of outlook invitations we have no clue where we’re supposed to be until the blackberry buzzes us!

    I agree. I think with these social tools we’ve dramatically widened our scope but reduced our depth. But collectively I think the mosaic is much richer. We’re exposed to so much more and if we don’t like it…we can just…

    Whip it.

  2. Great post, Kevin. I always got a kick out of the Devo de-evolution philosophy, although I never quite worshipped at the spud altar.

    Another example, similar to the way calculators and calendars affect our memory, is how cell phones have diminished our ability to remember anyone’s phone number.

    Neil Postman wrote a book on the subject back in 1993: “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology”

    I know, articles are tough enough, never mind reading a whole book!

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