The Sound Bite Society

Our audience is the Sound Bite Society, one that demands rudimentary snippets of information delivered by their individual choice of media.

The average American watches 5 hours of television a day. African-Americans? 7.12 hours a day. An average American kid spends about 900 hours in school per year, and watches around 1200 hours of television. Kids ages 6-11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV. As Rousseau said, “the apparent ease with which children learn is their ruin.” What could be easier than television?

Sheila Murphy (How Television Invented the New Media) declares that “literally and figuratively, television informs how New Media is used.” An argument could just as easily be made that television separates the old from the new, the timeless from the dated, the current from the outdated. If any medium is the message, it is television.

Attention spans have become abbreviated, reduced to a length only sufficient to recognize a few of the staccato messages sprayed toward the viewer. Television information is fractured into ephemeral sound bites; once broadcast, the content, consumed or not, evaporates.

Jeffrey Scheuer, in The Sound Bite Society: Television and the American Mind, states that,

  • Television inherently simplifies complex ideas into emotional, self-oriented moral and political impulses;
  • Television therefore impedes public consideration of complexity, ambiguity and connectedness in political and social issues…

Marshall McLuhan said, “we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” Television has has shaped recent generations of visitors to our parks, refuges, and museums. Whether or not we care for this transformation is irrelevant.

Statistic: Average daily media use in the United States from 2010 to 2014 (in minutes) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

One way that visitors manifest this transformation is through the devices they choose to access information. The chart above shows the trends in digital media and the various platforms that are currently available. Of equal importance are the programs that are chosen, such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.

A guerrilla interpreter is media agnostic. These media are not your children. If they no longer suit the need, they are be thrown away and replaced. Traditional media, such as printed guides and interpretive signs, are of no less inherent value than an iPad or an app. Each has a role. Each has a specific user demographic, a specific set of interpretive attributes, and specific instances where the medium is the one of choice.

A low tech application such as an interpretive panel, for example, is required in locations where connectivity is nonexistent. The same panel in an urban setting may be ignored by those bringing their own devices.

Infographic: Phablets See Jump in Popularity This Holiday Season | Statista

The devices visitors choose to bring is in constant flux, as seen in the chart above. The current trends is toward phablets, devices such as the iPhone 6 Plus that merge phone and tablet into a single device. By next Christmas, the trends may veer off in a new direction that no one can currently see.

Consider Integrating a specific strategy for reaching the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) audience into your interpretive plans. Be sure that content can be easily distributed across multiple interpretive platforms. Torn between mobile web and a mobile app? Have one program feed both. Remember that text written for a website isn’t the same as text for an app. Each medium demands a tailored approach to content development. The messages remain the same, but the packaging changes with each medium and application.

A guerrilla interpreter must keep a finger on these trends. While the messages may be timeless, the interpretive platforms are transitory. You must be able to nimbly hop from one platform to another, staying focused on the content of the work rather than the platforms that are used to deliver that content. There is no medium that cannot be adapted to an interpreter’s uses. The job, as an interpreter, to decide which media best deliver your content to the audiences of your choosing.