Filtering the news for our kids

It gushes out of multiple channels, often without any context.

For young people, especially those under 10 years, what passes for news is almost toxic. Our challenge is to find ways to keep them ‘well informed’ and yet not overwhelmed.

And of course, there’s no wonder app for that. Even the ones that promise to filter the crud (so-called ‘news aggregators‘ like FlowReader, Flipboard etc) are often accomplices when it comes to ‘TMI,’ or To Much Information.

But wait, there was once an filter for this which we have put to pasture. We called it ‘conversations.’ The human 1.0 app that helped us sift through day-to-day details, layering over the minutia with ‘big picture’ ideas, and cross-referencing them with stories.

We re-framed topics too ugly to ponder and yet too important to ignore. Children posed questions, and found answers to them at the dinner table. We didn’t need to fact-check everything on the spot because…. yes, you guessed it: Our conversations were not hijacked by a smart device sitting next to the casserole dish.

So I like to pose the question to you readers: ‘How do you filter the news for your kids? Common Sense Media has a useful guide for different age groups of children.

Whether you’re a teacher of a parent, I like to know. How do you filter the fire hose?


‘TMI’ may stand for Too Many Infographics

For a recent article in  CW magazine I interviewed Alberto Cairo of who teaches at the University of Miami, FL.

One of the questions I asked him was if infographics was being over-used today.  His answer was an unconditional yes! Tons of substandard projects, in fact.

There are “dozens of dubious graphics and “infoposters” that were not designed as tools to aid cognition and understanding,” he said. The problem? People think that by just compressing numbers side by side with ‘cute illustrations’ they could come up with an infographic.

If you like to read more about from Cairo, who’s the director for infographics and multimedia, here’s a link to my article. He’s also got a great blog, a companion to his upcoming book, Functional Art.

He refers to my interview with him in a post, A conversation on marketing, PR and infographics. He makes a great point there. That all this massaging of information is not bringing out the clarity we need. Especially when infographics are being “designed to attract eyeballs with bells-and-whistles.” In my interview he put it another way. “Infographics’ first goal is not to be cool, but to be understandable, readable, useful, and deep.”

I just came across one of these bells-and-whistles infographics. It is on the Kony 2012. I’m not sure what the purpose is and how it really helps us to know how the Kony interest stacks up with other, trivial YouTube videos. Here’s the link to that.

Compare that to this, below, posted by Cairo. It’s a work in progress, by students at a workshop. But you get the drift.

Your audience will forget your bullet points –just stick to one

I’ve been wrestling with how much information is just enough when presenting, and how much is too much. Over-communicating, like over-sharing, is a present-day malady, influenced by our penchant to provide too much details even to our close networks.

In business presentations and training sessions, some speakers have this tendency to add so many sidebars to the main thing that you often catch them saying “now where was I before I went off on that tangent..?”

Bullet points are one solution when one is prone to over-communicate. Short sentences. Rich metaphors. But even bullet points could be overdone. I have caught myself veering off the ledge hitting the bullet point icon too hard, when I should have hit the delete key instead.

So instead of saying this

  • I end up saying
  • things like this
  • hoping the idea
  • will stand out!
  • Wrong!

So here’s a revolutionary idea. When you have five  things to say, don’t, let four drop to the cutting floor. No one will miss them, I promise.

As in this simple video for Jet Blue, you could communicate one idea well.

Blocking and tackling social media distractions

I speak to plenty of young people to whom Facebook is like email –something they leave on and check every few minutes. But they are chatting on other channels as well. If you look carefully some folks even check their phones for incoming mail at …church.

So the question I get asked is, whether TMS (too much socialnetworking) is killing our attention. How do you read a 300-page book, how do you watch a 2-hour movie, or listen to a keynote speaker without instinctively reaching out to your laptop or phone to comment/share/snipe?

We adults have a similar problem –TMI (too much incoming). nearly every Blackberry user I speak to complains of being a few hundreds of emails behind. I knew someone who two years ago, would tune out a speaker at a small-group discussion(for 10 – 15 minutes) just to respond to his incoming mail. It was embarrassing to watch!

I’ve been running into many people calling time out, addressing TMS and TMI. Two names you may recognize.

Joel Spolsky, writer for Inc. Magazine. In his last column, he analyzes why Too Much Communication is killing us.

Now, we all know that communication is very important, and that many organizational problems are caused by a failure to communicate. Most people try to solve this problem by increasing the amount of communication: cc’ing everybody on an e-mail, having long meetings and inviting the whole staff, and asking for everyone’s two cents before implementing a decision.

And Seth Godin, railing against Incoming.

That email, Facebook and message queue is a lot longer than it used to be. For some people, it’s now a hundred or even a thousand distinct social electronic interactions a day. It’s as if a genie is whispering in your ear, “I have an envelope, and it might contain really good or really bad news. Want to open it?”

It’s time to stop letting the genie take over our lives. It’s time to put the brakes ion email; to stop taking notes, to pay attention to the speaker. It’s time to join the conversation happening in front of you first.

The other conversations (online) could wait a few minutes couldn’t it?

Will high speed slow us down?

In my line of work, I meet many young people, some of whom have never known dial-up. For them, having to wait a few seconds for a web page to load seems like “ages.” But as we speed things up, I have begun to sense people are actually slowing down, unable to cope with the torrent of data coming at them.

So the lure of a much faster internet, while it sounds wonderful, could rev up our lives more than we need, eliminating the need for quiet pauses, the “white space” in our thinking process. Getting past the ‘world wide wait’ is one thing. Being paralyzed by TMI and TMI (too much information, too many inputs) is another. A new word ‘exabyte’ is being tossed around. One Exabyte (EB) being one quintillion bytes. Never mind what quintillion means, it’s way too much!

In the UK, they are looking at “super-fast broadband” piped into homes through underground water pipes. Some years ago, Caltech developed a protocol called FAST –a geeky acronym for “Fast Active queue management Scalable Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)” Basically a new way of routing around congestion.

A warning cry is going out: “The exaflood is coming.” Maybe we should voluntarily slow down, before we are compelled to do it by other means.