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The fragmentization of experiences

October 2, 2011

Nick Carr has a great response to the buzz and attention surrounding Amazon’s new e-reader launches and points out a fact about the changed reading experience they want to bring about.

“The video is something of a Rorschach test. A person of the web may see X-Ray as a glorious advance. A person of the book may see the technology as a catastrophe.

“When you reduce friction, make something easy,” says Bezos, correctly, “people do more of it.” The friction in this case is the self-containment of the printed book, the tenacity of its grip on the reader. The reduction of the friction is the replacement of text with highly responsive hypertext. What people do more of is shift their focus and attention away from the words of the book and toward the web of snippets wrapped around the book – dictionary definitions, Wikipedia entries, character descriptions from Shelfari, and so forth. It’s easy to see the usefulness of X-Ray, particularly for reference books, manuals, and other publications of a utilitarian nature. But Bezos is not X-Raying a cookbook. He’s X-Raying a novel: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. He is, in a very real sense, treating a work of art as though it were an auto repair manual. Which is, of course, what the web wants a work of art to be: not a place of repose, but a jumping-off point.”

The suggestion here is there’s a transformation happening in the way we are experiencing or chose to experience content. This has been evolving over-time as layers get placed upon layers, so changing the experience. By giving users the opportunity to dig deeper into a book- you are changing the flow and are highly likely to shift them into a new mindset which will force them away from the original content on a journey that could take infinite time. The distraction is unsettling and obviously changes the author’s original intent.

Television commercials have ruined the “flow” of years with their barrage of constant interruption and those who seeking the pure experience try to get around this by subscribing to ad free channels or using their DVR. However, there are others who manage to cope with the distraction and work their ways around to have a perhaps less than ideal experience, but one that they are probably OK with.

There’s no turning back, but users have choices, they aren’t being forced to disappear down the wormhole, but it’s there if they want to.

We are now so used to interruption that we are building in our own ways of masking the commercial annoyances with personalized experiences- we use multiple devices to doing other things while commercials are on, because they simply can’t keep our attention. As companies get savvier with social media and television- those distractions are going to become even more organized and potentially powerful- taking people away from the TV screen even more frequently.

Books, theater, concerts and movies are, on the whole, pure cultural experiences that have up until now remained distraction free, but the move by Amazon to disrupt our reading experience and possibly to even sell ads in books, is a trend that’s set to continue in other areas.

It’s obvious, we are going to see a number of different consumer and content provider approaches to either deal with, or take advantage of the change.

1. Some experiences will remain pure and try to gain credit for being that way- “brought to you commercial free” is one thing we expect to see more of- content creators will also try to stick to the purity of this type of content

2. Some consumers will develop work arounds as they have for all other forms of interruption- they will create their own to “mask” the effect of outsiders.

3. Some consumers will be disciplined and find ways to avoid distraction.

4. Some consumers will become used to these new experiences and just take them in their stride. Cleaver content creators will take advantage and find refreshing ways to bring these multi-takers and “fragmenters” content with new and different narrative structures and therefore changed experiences-think Social TV, interactive movies, etc.

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