As professional communicators, public relations practitioners are true believers in the persuasive power of words, regardless of the format in which they are presented. However, many of us worry that information overload – brought on by a seemingly unending creation of snazzy, electronic gadgets – has forever distracted and fragmented the audiences we strive to reach.
The good news is that those we aim to influence are no more ready to throw in the towel and look elsewhere than we, as originators and purveyors of newsworthy information, should be. As a matter of fact, the rationale and need for strategic wordsmithing has never been greater. It’s all about making what we have to write and say for our clients be both compelling and accessible.
At least that’s my take from a recently released major study, “How Much information? 2009 Report on American Consumers,” conducted by the University of California San Diego’s Global Information Industry Center (http://hmi.ucsd.edu/howmuchinfo.php). This report confirms that our thirst for knowledge and novelty has actually kept pace with the plethora of devices and technologies for conveying all that information.
UCSD research finds that the average American’s information consumption was 100,000 words, or roughly 34 gigabytes per day in 2008, equivalent to about one-fifth of a notebook PC’s hard drive, depending on the model. Over the past 30 years, the study estimates that information bytes consumed by U.S. households increased by 350 percent, for an average annual growth rate of 5.4 percent. In 2008 alone, total bytes consumed equaled the information (words!) stored in thick paperback novels stacked seven feet high over the entire U.S., including Alaska!
It’s perhaps noteworthy that the researchers chose this “written word” analogy to illustrate their point about rising American information consumption. Contrary to popular wisdom, we’re reading three times more words than we were in the early 1980s, before computers entered the information mainstream to challenge and ultimately displace TV and radio. While the share of printed words read by Americans for informational purposes declined from 25 percent in 1960 to 9 percent in 2008, the share of words read from the Internet and computer programs is now about 27 percent. E-mail, texting and “a lot of Web browsing is still in the form of reading,” according to Roger Bohn, director of the UCSD GIIC.
As the tremendous popularity of Kindles, BlackBerrys, notebook PCs and now iSlate tablet e-readers demonstrates, the importance and weight of the written, or filed, word to convey news and ideas remains vital. UCSD’s report concludes that “reading is the overwhelming preferred way to receive words on the Internet,” rendering press release writers’ output more relevant than ever in the Age of e-Information Technology.
To paraphrase loosely the other-wordly message that inspires farmer-baseball fan Ray Kinsela (Kevin Costner) in the 1989 movie classic, Field of Dreams, “If We Build and Strategically Issue Good Content, They Will Read It.”