Ensnared by the Web – Battling Information Overload
To unsuspecting PR practitioners, the internet appears to be the golden ticket to success. What’s not to love? For starters, a tight financial budget no longer stands in the way between PR people and their audience. It requires little financial cost to craft a convincing message online. In a matter of seconds, your message knows no boundaries, reaches far and wide – rendering geographical barriers irrelevant.
In essence, professionals from the PR industry cherish the internet mostly because it presents increased opportunities to interact with their publics on their client’s behalf. There are several features that distinguish the internet from traditional PR platforms, i.e. the unique availability and accessibility of information. Rarely do the pieces of information littering our screens come in “byte-size” portions. The sheer volume of which we have become accustomed recipients is tremendous.
Of course, we’ve had some time to adapt to the electronic age. In fact, several surveys have been conducted in the past, and most participants indicated that they did not feel overwhelmed by the internet. Could that be true?
Experts say otherwise
Consider the findings of Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry. He conducted a series of experiments that confirmed our suspicions. It turns out that the neural pathways in our brain are very susceptible to modification and can be altered by merely surfing the net for five hours. With intensified use, there is no doubt that our brains have become structurally and irrevocably different from before.
Sharing similar sentiments, Nicholas Carr, the author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain,” draws the link between frequent exposure to internet and undesirable outcomes. More specifically, he asserted that the consequences of multitasking online can be quite deleterious. According to Carr, being bombarded with tasks online may even cause us to temporarily lose the ability to think logically or make rational choices. This is also known as cognitive overload.
In other words, being bombarded with stimuli from the internet can lead to poor performance. This occurs even when we are in the comfort of our homes. Many people do not realize this. We are fierce believers of our ability to multitask online; selecting items to add to our virtual shopping carts with one eye trained on an important work assignment, bulldozing through research articles, checking the mailbox whenever an email pops in and corresponding with our friends over instant messaging. Add cell phones to the picture, and you will begin to see that it is a struggle to detach yourself from our increasingly connected world.
Becoming more reader-friendly
More astonishingly, according to research, the masterpiece that you have just written and published online may even cause your readers to experience physical discomfort. Reading off a screen is known to potentially cause:
- Blurred vision
- Sore, tired eyes
- Back, neck and shoulder aches
At this point, you are probably thinking that the internet has become something we are too dependent on – we can’t possibly give it up! Not even if we are aware that it may make us ill or reduce the complexity of our thinking processes. And all if not most of us possess jobs that require us to use the computer for far, far longer than five hours every day. I’m definitely not suggesting that we refrain from using the internet as a communication medium.
Some useful tactics to relieve the pains of screen reading:
Chunking – The way you organize your written product can help others read it more easily. Break your message up into shorter paragraphs.
Rein in the fluff – Your writing can be cohesive and masterful without being littered with descriptive words. Unnecessary adjectives must be excluded to prevent your product from seeming too cluttered.
Clear navigation – Guide the readers’ line of sight. Direct their attention by highlighting key phrases with Bold or Italic font styles. Always keep in mind the effectiveness of well-organized writing.
Personal and engaging tone – Make your content easy for your readers to relate to. Adopt a conversational tone without coming across as too casual. A formal and rigid style of writing may be more difficult to digest.
Don’t be ensnared by the Web
Considering the vastness of the internet, the notion that we may become restricted will probably sound strange to you. Like moths to a flame, can PR practitioners become inexplicably drawn to the allure of the internet? Will they become too eager to hop onto the social media bandwagon? It’s possible – they may do so by ignoring alternate effective means to connect with others.
Print is certainly not dead. The expertise of PR practitioners facilitated their efforts to foster durable and successful relationships between organizations and the public – for over a century – their uncanny familiarity with how the newspaper works has helped them to become indispensable to their stakeholders.
Initially, anxiety and uncertainty plagued public discourse about the migration of communication to the World Wide Web. Surely we can agree that this transition is as good as complete! Nonetheless, the print medium remains a relevant platform for information dissemination, and ought not be overlooked. Many people still look to the newspaper as a respectable source of information.
By Cho Yi Ting, PR Associate @ Corporate Media Services