Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Victory of Quantity Over Quality

Technology and market efficiency are combining forces to give us more and more of worse and worse, and it's hard to tell what the net effect will be on our quality of life.

For us in the technology business, as well as affluent young people around the world, we have more and more gadgets, transactions, news sources and diversions than ever before. We have greater choices on where to get our news, for instance, and can drop traditional media such as the daily newspaper or network TV news show, while getting more information than ever before on our favorite topics.

Real, tangible things are getting cheaper as well. I pay less for a men's suit today in nominal terms, not to mention inflation adjusted terms, than I did twenty years ago. Food is inexpensive, and we know what the result is. In the information economy, there are vast numbers of things from software to information that are at no charge, especially if I'm willing to expose myself to advertising as part of the deal.

The growth of social media is the latest instance of the inexorable victory of quantity over quality. Why do most social networking sites seem like seedy dumps because of the irrelevant messages, obscenities and hate-mongering that are so common? On pseudo-professional sites like Linked In, there seems to be a group of people ready to pounce on any discussion topic with self-serving ads or promotions whether or not they are germane to the thread.

I'm suffering the death of a thousand cuts in the sheer number of emails, tweets, text messages, phone calls, ads, Facebook entries and more. I confess I have even been tempted to look at my smartphone when it shivers on the carseat beside me. I'm worried about how my son will be able to drive safely with so many distractions and so many distracted drivers around him.

Blogs like this one are another example of quantity beating quality. If each blogger had to justify the quality of his output by paying to publish it in a book, magazine or newsletter, few would see the light of day.

Twitter is the ultimate in quantity driving out quality. Its entire paradigm is based on a high volume of low value thoughtlets propogated by hundreds of thousands. How much time should I spend checking the continuous flow of tweets for the really interesting link I would not have noticed?

Business has adapted to technology and moved to a lower denominator, if not the least common denominator. I have business relationships driven by conference calls which last months before meeting in person, and important business decisions are communicated by terse emails.

The English language is another victim. Correct spelling seems as quaint as spats, and even grownups find it acceptable to embrace "c u soon" as an alternative to "sincerely". Job seekers routinely offer their services in emails that include misspellings on their first page or even in the subject line. Presumably these individuals eventually find a taker.

You may take it from my reflections and complaints that I am a real Luddite. To that, I say "fiddlesticks" and "flibbety floo." I may be a grumpy old man, but mark my words -- someday you will look back wistfully on the days when you thought deeper thoughts and consumed less but higher quality. I would write more on this important topic, but I need to sign off now to catch up on some tweets.


Janet said...

Excellent thoughts expressed clearly and spelled correctly! Mama

William said...

Paul Simon Jr.: "Who am I to tweet against the wind?" What about the law of the transformation a quantity into quality? Perhaps we truly are at a mega tipping point but have to experience the catastrophe before the new order emerges...