tl;dr context

TLDR is the great myth of social media.

The idea that a story was Too Long to Read was a seemingly harmless necessity to manage overwhelming amounts of information created with rising social networks and visual media. In order to “stay up to date” with the world’s happenings, one can’t spend their whole day reading news.

This belief that conceived TLDR is made up of two dangerous fallacies that shaped our culture and destroyed democracy.


The first fallacy is simply that we must stay up to date.

What this fallacy implies is the need to “check-in on news” about everything, everywhere. The mental health and transformation our brains and culture have undergone this millennia because of social media are due to this large-scale connectivity.

There are still huge positives from global connectivity- the young westerner, an online witness to deforestation and illegal elephant hunting in Botswana who finds a dream of bold activism, or our ability to have global community and support mission work online- these are not negated.

Rather, we need to find balance and begin to choose what gets to detract our attention from life. If we are unable to focus the movements in the world that we truly care about, we end up caring about nothing.


The second fallacy produced a collective, diminished capacity to understand. TLDR is inherently void of nuance, voice, and representation. When you strip context from a story, you neglect understanding it.

Odell describes it best in her work about resisting an attention economy by removing ourselves from the frameworks into which we are forced:

The ability to seek out context is nothing less than a collective survival skill.

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing

When allowed to absorb a summary (mere snippets of important news) we tend to feel knowledgable about the subject. The truth is, we have no idea what we know and (more dangerously) don’t know.

Building our residency upon the scraps from another’s distillation, we claim awareness when, in fact, we are the most ignorant. “Weak ties”, rushed exposition, and misrepresented ideas make up not only the culture of TLDR, but also the disposition of our culture and the media in control of it.

“Give us 22 minutes and we’ll give you the world” (New York radio station slogan). This is said without irony, and its audience, we may assume, does not regard this slogan as the conception of a disordered mind.

Neil Postman, on the best entertained, least well-informed group in the world…

America has long clung to the right to an opinion.
Let’s learn a bit before asserting our own…


The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Here are the deepest implications that few outside historians have enough framework to understand: Technological advancements have exponential, unseen repercussions.

The like button, pull to refresh, infinite scroll… add TLDR to the list of design implements dismantling our ability to be human… add culture void of context and (worse) the ability to retrieve and arrange context with meaning.

I hate to simply notice and identify this dilemma, but a pretend solution to a society-scale issues aids no one. We need awareness and a collective willingness to fix these problems before things will be restored.


What did you notice today? ///

Author: Ben Fridge

thecollegeminimalist.com

One thought on “tl;dr context”

  1. The most effective solution we can offer: build intentional attention. Individuals will have to educate themselves deeply, be eager to listen and slow to speak and have the discipline to direct their attention rather than scatter it. Great article Ben.

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