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Why is the TL;DR Phenomenon Happening?

Carson Reider
Carson Reider / May 26, 2014

tl;drAfter reading "Faking Cultural Literacy" in the New York Times, I began thinking, "why is this happening?" which then snowballed into academic database perusing, which leads to the following words you'll read ... if this isn't too long.

So, is the TL;DR phenomenon here to stay or will we go back to our long-form reading days?

The Negatives of Social Media

One goal of social media is to make it easier for individuals to communicate and engage in conversations, but has it led to decreased thoroughness in reading?

It has also been used to report breaking news, but Twitter users rarely perform fact checking before sending out or retweeting news tweets.

Are we too concerned about sharing content than actually reading the content we're sharing? It seems counter-intuitive, but the results of a study by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, concludes otherwise.

The Illusion of Connection

How our society communicates has been heavily influenced by the development and growth of social media. Social mediaites have incorporated social networking sites into the very fabric of their life, using them to talk with friends, ask for advice, publish creative output, follow current events, develop content curation skills, and more.

All of these tasks have cause our attention spans to shorten, and has created the illusion of connection.

The illusion stems from misrepresentations taking place in cyberspace. Scanning through information is now the norm, and reading is the exception. We might think that we can digest two lines of text and get an accurate summary, but often that's not the case. Remember NPR’s April Fools’ Day web story "Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?"?

The TL;DR Phenomenon

TL;DR ("too long; didn't read" for the uninformed) is how the aforementioned facts have been summarized by internet aficionados.

You may be accustomed to Huffington Post's clickbait headlines, and Reddit mocks them by summarizing their top stories in TL;DR format.

The Media Insight Project conducted a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults conducted from January 9 through February 16, 2014. Some key results are shared below.

According to the report, "fully 4 in 10 Americans say they got news in the last week from social media, through platforms such as Twitter or Facebook." With 40 percent of news being discovered on social media, it is becoming an important tool for people across all generations to discover news.

Here's where the TL;DR phenomenon comes into effect: "Overall, 41 percent of Americans report that they watched, read, or heard any in-depth news stories, beyond the headlines, in the last week." That means 59 percent of Americans only read headlines!

So get to writing those captivating headlines because without them .. well ... good luck.

What Does This Mean For News?

With nearly half of Americans with internet access signed up for news alerts, quick snippets of info seem to provide all the user needs.

Is it possible to provide a useful summary in the sort of 15-second attention chunks desired, or can you only provide the illusion of a useful summary?

Does this mean long-form writing is of yesteryear?

Let us know in the comments below!

Tagged With: Social Media