Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Curse of Short-Termism


The headline reads Dow Industrials Fall to Seven Week Low. What? Is that really important? In fact, is reporting the daily fluctuations of the stock markets something that we should pay attention to? Whether we should or shouldn't pay attention to something is not the point of this post; what I'm interested in is how that headline illustrates our cultural obsession with the short-term. (image from springabove)
"What does this have to do with sustainability and social media?" you might ask.

Everything.

Sustainability:
If we can't look past seven weeks, how the heck are we expected to look past seven months, seven years, or seven generations? We struggle to look past the ends of our cultural/societal noses when making decisions that will affect generations that have yet to be born. Sure, unemployment sits at near 10% and there are numerous reasons for people to feel short-term anxiety about making mortgage payments, putting food on the table (fortunately, I am in neither of those boats), and ecological destruction. The underlying systemic reasons for where we are now stemmed from short-term thinking 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. Lax lending standards, policies that encouraged borrowing for people that probably would have been better off NOT borrowing, poor regulatory oversight, and business decision making led to these situations.

Social Media:
As a social media user, I am constantly battling the urge to check the data stream and see what interesting snippets are out there. For the most part, I skim something and rarely make it through an entire article jumping ahead to the next thing. Worse, I may simply want to post something that seems interesting at that moment for the sake of posting it and not pausing to reflect on what the post says about me, what I'm all about, and what I'm trying to communicate to anyone that might be paying attention. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of filling the air for the sake of filling it and ignoring what the content may or may not contribute to the long-term points and mission you may be trying to fulfill.

Might the wholesale thoughtless adoption of a communication mode that has the potential to engage people in positive social change yet revels in short-termism exacerbate the "sustainability problem"?

It's something to think about.

If you're a person (or a brand/organization) interested in leveraging social media to engage communities and generate sustainable social change, it's imperative that you remember how your messages maintain your commitment to your long-term mission. Is that tweet about the crazy traffic jam in China really relevant to the people connected to you or the people you'd like to be connected with? What value are you adding by spreading that meme? How might the message be interpreted in the long-term, looking back on a stream of communication?

Pause a moment, look beyond seven minutes or seven hours, and think about what you're saying...for the long-term

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