#MRUShift: Changing The Channel On The Backchannel

Changing the channel on the backchannel

Changing the channel on the backchannel

[twitter]On May 9, 2013, I has invited to be part of a panel at MRUShift. Here are the notes from the quick talk I gave on how new media needs to slow down, and old/big media needs to stop trying to catch up, and how we all need to tune out of the back channel.

I’m a fan of brief biographies. The sort that you see on Twitter. Mine is 5 words long.

I’m a Dad. I’m a Broadcaster. I’m a Writer. I’m a Media Disruptor.

That, for me, usually means I am trying to bridge gaps between new and old media .. you know, teach it some new tricks and bring old media models forward to deal with the times.

Today, I’m going to go the other way, I’m going to try and teach new media old tricks

[at this point I put my hands on my head and said “Un deux trois, et on ne parle pas”]

My son’s kindergarten teacher uses that to get the attention of her class. They have to stop what they’re doing, put their hands on their heads, and pay attention. I see many of you are clacking keys and scrubbing screens. Try it with me.

Un deux trois et … on ne parle pas.

To play along you had to put your things down, look up at me, and pay attention. This is a crucial tool for a kindergarten teacher to control a class, but look what it has just done for you. Your focus is here, you’re not multitasking, you’re focusing. Your attention is singular.

I’m going to ask that you keep it here for the next 8-10 minutes. That you keep your phones down, your computers closed, and you just sit and listen to me. Old school. No notes. No backchannel. No tweets.

Just a speaker and an audience.

The idea of slowing down really struck me in the face during the Boston bombing news coverage 2 weeks ago. As I watched the real time news unfold, and as it stumbled with incorrect facts, and as I watched reporters staring at their phones and reading tweets I realized something.

I know more than they do. They’re on the screen filling time, by reading the internet to me. I’m at home, I have the internet, I’m on my laptop with 14 tabs open in my browser(s) while I watch tv. I already know what they can tell me because they can’t have 14 tabs open. They’re blankly looking at the screen.


There was one great part where a police car screamed by a CNN reporter and she said “Something is happening. W don’t know what it is.. but something is definitely happening!”


There was also a famous bit where John King said a suspect was in custody, and was being taken to federal court. Instantly a thousand cameras rushed to the court house and sat there. For nothing. One BuzzFeed reporter tweeted the picture of the cameras at the courthouse with a shrug as if to say we’re all here, we don’t know why.

The police never issued an alert that someone was captured. It was one tweet, one broadcasted message, that took hold and look at the wild goose chase we went on.

This is going to happen in the live cable news era. When news breaks they will go to it live and they will not break away.

Back in the day we would have to wait for the morning paper, or the late news to know what happened, now with Twitter and live news we watch it happen. and that’s not really how we should be consuming our news.


It’s like we’re at the chef’s table and they’re live making dinner in front of us. Except instead of just sauces and sauteeing, we’re watching him kill the chicken, pluck it and butcher it before cooking it and serving it. That’s what cable news and Twitter has become, we’re watching all the ugly stuff that we really don’t need to see and it’s messing up the end product.

You get that chicken entree after watching that show, and you can’t forget about the beginning part of it. Breaking news is ugly, there are dead ends and bad questions, but reporters need to ask those to find the leads and good questions.

What we saw with boston, and the live breaking news and the missteps should be a lesson to all of us to pull back a bit in how we consume, and what we expect. The news cycle on Twitter is measured in minutes. I’ll see a headine when I wake up, read about it, and then I see it that night on the supper news and I think to myself, “Pfft. old. know it.”

But when the climax of the Boston situation hit, I wasn’t online. I was at a friend’s house having dinner. I checked my phone when I went to the bathroom – because of course – and saw the suspect had been captured. I told my friends, and we went back to our party. We didn’t flip on the tv, nobody whipped out the phone.

Then, when I got home, I watched The National. I got 20 minutes of news from a collection of reporters that was coherent, correct, and had context. I understood the story better by seeing it with the benefit of some time between the event happening, “something happening, we don’t know what it is, but something is happening” .. and later in the night.

A generation ago, the Boston story would have played out the next morning in the newspaper, or on the late news. We wouldn’t have known instantly as it was happening, we would have known after it happened.

And that is my argument for new media to slow down. We are so quick to comment and judge without the full story, that we’re missing details and the errors happen. CNN is trying to keep up with Twitter, by getting so far ahead, that good journalism isn’t happening. We need to slow it down.


Putting our phones down is a great thing to do, actually.

My kids bug me al ot to put the phone down when we’re out. “I just have to finish one last tweet,” I’ll tell them.

“But daddy .. pay attention to me!” is the response.

The problem is this phone, this computer really, is also my camera. Ii pop it open to take a picture and then I want to crop it. Then I want to add filters. Then I want to add text. Then I want to Instagram it. Then I want to see my friends Instagrams. Then I want to see if anyone has retweeted my picture and soon enough my kids are in the street away from the playground.

It’s a rat hole.

You want to get in and out, but it’s a rat hole. You see it at conferences too. The backchannel with hashtags everywhere. You’ve seen them here today. #MRUSHIFT is the one you should be using to talk about your day to everyone who is not here.

But when you do that, are you here?

If you live tweet a talk, are you really paying attention?

You may call it multitasking, it’s actually called Continuous Partial Attention. CPA – it’s what happens when you are exposed to lots of information but only on a superficial level. None of it really sinks in.

And as you frantically try to peck out that nugget .. “continuous partial attention, that’s neat, I should tweet that!” You’ve missed what I’ve said while you were typing. Because when you tweet that, you will go down the rathole of other connections and get lost in the backchannel.

You were quoting the past, and then had to fast forward to the future to catch up. You missed the present.

Now I get it. The backchannel is very cool. I used to love it for the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars and other events I might watch at home but want to be part of a larger, snarkier audience. But as I start tweeting and following the tweets, I stop following the show. CPA… you can’t do both.

Now, sure, the tweets are often better than the show, but you can’t do both. So now, when I really want to watch something, like NHL playoffs. I will turn my phone off and leave it another room so that it’s a pain in the ass to a) get and b) turn back on and reboot.

I actually enjoy watching tv with just one screen now. Every now and again I’ll get itchy, and turn it back on, but then I miss the program. I need to make a choice.


It’s great that we are moving ahead at a rapid pace of invention and innovation. The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the playoffs, there was no YouTube.

But things are moving too quickly to properly keep up with each other, and when you try to keep up things slip up. When you look at how great things are when we slow down, focus, enjoy the moment, and live in the present you begin to really live your life again. You actually understand the news and world around you when there is context and depth added to a story.

Have you ever seen the hashtag, #latergram? It’s used when you take a picture but don’t publish it til later.

I get you still want to take pictures of your kids at the park, your friends at the bar, or whatever. But snap, click, put it away and get back to your life. Then, in the cab home, or before you go to bed, or the next day, you edit it and post it and say “wild night with friends. #latergram.” It means you enjoyed the moment, and were not compelled to get outside of it.

Now, as you pick your phones back up, and open your keyboards, hopefully you have a full understanding of what I was trying to say. A kindergarten teacher’s tool to get little kids to pay attention is something we could all use. Go back into that backchannel now, it’s a useful place, but I hope when you tweet the talk you’ll add the hashtag #latertweet. Because you took a pause to take in my talk and pay attention. For that, I am grateful.

Thank you.

A week after my speech, CBS anchor Scott Pelley gave this speech echoing my theory far more eloquently.

” In a world where everyone is a publisher…no one is an editor.”
– Scott Pelley


Think I’m Not Paying Attention? Think Again. [Design Concepts] Jack White Twitter Ban [Guardian] Tweeting Your Life Away [Beneath The Cover] Against Live Tweeting Talks [Dynamic Ecology] When Everyone Is Tweeting, Who Is Paying Attention? [Business 2 Community]



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