We decry our ADD age, the age of Attention Deficit Disorder. Michael Goldhaber has been explaining for a decade that in the age of information overload, our attention becomes the most valuable commodity. His brother Nat went off to found CyberGold, a dot-com designed to take advantage of this insight, by paying people to watch ads online. (Nat also was the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate of a major party, in 2000, but that is a different story.) CyberGold went the way of many dot-coms, by being merged into MyPoints, another online points company, and later being swallowed at the peak of the mania by an Old Economy company, in this case United Airlines, which promptly went bankrupt after 9/11. It never got the attention it deserved, being overwhelmed with so many other similar ventures.
What is the underlying phenomenon? it isn't just about attention being valuable. It is about attention span getting shorter. Yelnick's Law is: the more information we are inundated with, the less time we can spend on any one item. Mathematically:
A = 1 / I
A, our attention span, is inversely related to I, the info flux. The more stuff we see and hear, the less time we have to spend on any particularly item of interest.
The Info Flux has increased exponentially in the past 100 years. Telephones, Radio, Television, Cable and now the Internet. Walkmans, iPods, Cellphones, Crackberries. The practice pre-Gutenberg of a minstrel leisurely singing the news around a late night campfire is gone with the wind. The practice pre-electronics of long-winded stump speeches and flowery letters is gone with the windbags. The result is ADD, which is not a malady but an adaptation.
Yelnick's Law is seen in the rapid evolution of writing in the electronic age. In the '80s came the document. In the '90s, the (web) page. And in the '00s, the (blog) post. An evolution to microcontent, discrete items of information
The end point of Yelnick's Law is beyond microcontent - the Deep Bumper Sticker. "Bumper sticker" is used as a euphemism for any a short label of information. A "deep" bumper sticker is one that carries with it deep context. The context develops in the info flux, and the bumper sticker can then bring with it the massive amount of associated information that makes it meaningful. Politicians have learned how to do this naturally with the sound bite. "Iraq = Vietnam" is a current example.
Deep Bumper Stickers can appear as real bumper stickers, of course. They can even cross-reference other bumper stickers: "Nuke the Gay Whales for Jesus" skewers most of the popular bumper stickers of the '80s. I suppose its next evolution will be "Honk if you Nuke the Gay Whales for Jesus." Bumper stickers vary in meaning based on placement. Consider "Run, Hillary, Run!" It is seen on the back of Democrat cars, and on the front bumper of Republican cars.
We need to embrace the art of deep bumper stickers. Yelnick's Law points towards a new method of persuasion and communication - the creation of deep context in the cascading of bumper stickers and sound bites, building on each other like memes running through communities. The fight is not over the details and nuance underlying the argument, but over the high-ground of context surrounding the sound bite. We lack the time to delve any deeper.