Making a stand in the Fidget Economy

From “Top writer in Journalism” on @medium David D.Gyimah

Fidget Spinner — Photo by David Dunkley Gyimah

We fidget. I fidget. You fidget when you watch a film whose plot has stalled and you remember you’re in a movie theatre and that popcorn munching behind you is overwhelming. Before the 1960s, the average shot length in a film was 8–11 seconds. In Bourne Supremacy it is 1.1 seconds. That’s 16 cuts before you got to this point — one way to reduce fidgeting.

We fidget when we’re even on the move; head down buried in our phones. In classrooms, the dinning room, in boardroom meetings, we can’t avoid fidgeting; those hormones coursing our brains: “Ah time to scroll on the phone for an email, tweet or Facebook”. That point I wanted to make about creating award winning films on your mobile? Lost!

President Trump appears to have made fidgeting a trade craft. He wants his briefings on one page and visual, and WH staff have to include his name in every paragraph, or else. And if you’ve read this far, thanks for your attention. The alternative was a listicle. knowing you have 10 points to go through provides cognitive expectations about when this article will end. Number seven, tens coming up real soon!

We fidget so much, that those geniuses created the Fidget Spinner, which splashed into our lives en mass last month. Bored? Here’s capitalism’s remedy, for $5. How to make a killing with boredom eh?

This Fidget Economy, its causes and effects are problematic. It yields normalised attention deficit as acceptable, the cravings to know immediately present itself with little substitutes. Don’t google, ask Siri. And there’s a general assumption that there’s a quick fix.

Yet even though Fidget Spinner validates fidgeting, could the practice itself be heightened by the digital culture of everything on, and being accessible? More of that in another post.

You, me, Trump and Theresa May are exhibit A. Before we’re overcome with boredom and star fidgeting: “strong and stable government” and MAGA is repeated ad nausea. The political rule book goes further. In Drew Westen’s The Political Brain (p.147) №1 of 10 says of writing an emotional political script, “It should have the structure our brains expect of narrative so that it can be readily understood, told and retold”

Creating content for the fidgeting generation

Last Monday my colleague and I baulked at a request. A university wanted someone to teach a couple of days Digital Storytelling referencing #VR and 36o video. Forget the process, just tell the students what they needed to do, was the brief.

In another article I’ll argue there is, as yet, no such thing as a digital theory. If anything, there are a multiplicity of micro-thesis and emergent paradigms shaping businesses and impacting legacy analogue theories. Repetitive Appendage Manoeuvres (RAM) is the new fidget in the digital age.

However, there are equivalents of this need-it-now request everywhere. That media conference you’re attending is an homage to pedagogical fidgeting.

Ten times half-hour sessions in which speakers transfuse the audience with the Frank Sinatra equivalent of “I did it might way”, with the saccades of blink and its over — the speed of that excess sugar rush.

Fidgeting, sorry RAM, is the brain’s reflex action gone wonky. It’s not necessarily triggered by duration or time, as your attention span may differ to others. However, there’s a general understanding that today time is an in-demand resource.

Hence, video gurus will tell you a social media film must be x minutes and produced in y ways. There is a downside attributed to Bob Marley in this quote. Substitute “she” for “it” if you want to:

If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.

I have a method I’ve developed in training and teaching to Gen X, and Millennials in video storytelling, online coding, entrepreneurial skills, or whatever. There’s an amusing narrative behind it. When one of the governing bodies visited us to inspect the course they were adamant it couldn’t work and they were quite insistent. The students ran the real risk of getting bored, confused at worst, they added.

I took a different view from training the UK’s first regional newspapers to become video content creators ( video journalism) about ten years ago.

Then they asked the students. Did you know if you introduce a simple maths problem into a conversation you force your partner to go into deep thinking? When you build up a collaborative problem. Leave the classroom for outside. More ways to reduce fidgeting.

You can find a full article on the brill work of Masters students here. Our job is to challenge their status quo and we’re beyond words when they pay it back.


Desirable Difficulties

I see RAM as a trait. It’s always been around, similar to the flight or fright syndrome. With flight syndrome, when you’re in a danger, prepping for a talk, or nervous, your brain attempts to compensate: you get sweaty, heart race increases, eyes dilate, breathing gets shallow. You have a choice, run or stand. To avoid fidgeting and achieve focus, there’s a sense you need to artificially stimulate the above with additional caveats.

Rather than making things easy, there’s an elasticity, a sweet point between how difficult something is and how you remember it — if you’re willing to learn in the first place. Psychologists refer to it as desirable difficulty. The more difficult something is that you desire to know, the more you’re likely to remember it, which I write about here.

But the art of discovery has to be co-joined with something else within our new digital value chain and to ensure lasting memories — telling a story.

The more immersive the story, the more engaged you are, the less fidgeting you do. And that story has have built into it plot themes, arcs, inciting incidences, movement (psychological or real), taut scripting, an understanding of the audience-content creator value proposition and how and where you place your performance.

We can all decode a story, which leads us to believe how simplistic it is, which it can be, but to combat the RAM economy, we’re probably going to have to up our game, to drill deeper and wider into cultures, digital ones at that too and genres. And that takes some time to learn. Time for me to fidget now.

If you’re interested in my take on journalism for the next ten years, here’s a link to my article below.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah leads the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster.

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