There are a lot of people out there who would have you and me believe that attention is the new scarce-commodity-cum-currency online. Yes, it is kind of true. Not many of us are blessed enough to be free of fast moving streams of information and updates and instant messages.
The majority of people online today are being constantly swept away in this deluge on information and clickbait and interviews and cat pictures. It’s only a matter of time before everyone is looking at the most viral thing online and move on to the next big thing.
The web, though accessed mostly by mobile phones, is an often underestimated rabbit hole. And so, it would seem that attention is the new thing. But is it true? If users are indeed beginning to feel short on time and are favoring dopamine-inducing quizzes and Snapchat stories to longform content, then it almost seems that everything is lost.
If attention is the new currency, then longform content might just vanish.
In an online scenario where literally everyone is fighting for the attention of everyone else, it would seem that content that is packaged to deliver just the right amount of information, in the least amount of time and with the least effort would thrive. Not only would the stream of information be filled with 140-character tweets (I love Twitter, actually), but almost all other pieces of content will be the same. Bursts of updates, requiring no effort from anyone who sees it. It was there in front of your eyes for a quick second before it was carried away by the stream.
So it would seem that longform content would be hardest hit by such a system. Let me remind you, longform content is not just a number. It’s a committment. It’s an understanding, that great content is not just something that can be easily consumed. It’s an understanding that it takes effort to cosume, understand and then inculcate what we have read. It takes effort still, and time, to be affected by what we have read. The slow, long narrative is not an anachronism in this era, it is an evergreen method of storytelling.
Not only does the longform style encourage artistic freedom in the writer, it also allows stories to have a greater impact. Packed with greater information than normal content, longform-style articles provide access to both sides of a debate, or a greater window into a topic of interest. So you can see how longform content is different from all the other offerings, and what it provides.
What gives me hope to this day, is the simple fact that more people are reading longform-style content today than before. With tools like Pocket and Instapaper, users can now save long articles for later consumption, without the fear of missing out something from their daily stream of information. Every week, I see a greater number of long artices in the newsletters I’m subscribed to. What gives me hope is the mere fact that websites like Aeon, Narratively, Nautilus and others are popping up in increasing numbers and thriving too. Even established publications like The New Yorker, The NY Times, The New Republic and many more are increasing their output in terms of longform articles. Even BuzzFeed, the home of all those quizzes and cat pictures and memes, has done an incredible job at longform investigative reporting over the past year. Some of the best articles I’ve read last year were from BuzzFeed. So what does that tell us? Longform content is working and it’s here to stay.
Sometimes, it seems to me that the mere act of reading long articles is an act of rebellion. A declaration to the world that, missing out on the ever-flowing stream of updates is okay, and that I value my time enough to be spending it reading something that helps me grow (in terms of knowledge or perspective) than on updates and short bursts of dopamine and instant messages. There is nothing more relaxing than settling into a couch with a cup of hot coffee and reading a nearly 20,000 word article about the sense-oriented future of food. It’s possibly the second-best way to relax on a quiet, slow weekend. The best way would be to read an actual book.
With websites like Longreads and Longform curating the best longform articles for everyone, it is now easier than ever to find great articles to read, that outlast a pop song on the radio. The unmistakable, happy trend I’ve been noticing is that more readers out there now prefer longform articles and videos, and the publishers are listening and providing it. And though I’ve fallen short of the criteria to label this post as a #longread, that trend makes me happy and optimistic about the future. A future that is not called the ‘attention economy’.