Choose Your Own Context

What does the remix culture mean for business storytelling?

Last week, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times wrote an insightful and thought-provoking commentary on how the “mash-up culture” of our increasingly digital age affects how we consume texts.  I urge you to make time to read Kakutani’s piece, “Texts Without Context,” in full. 

First, it’s well worth it.  And second, part of Kakutani’s commentary is that our reading habits and attention spans have changed.  Take her piece as a challenge; see how many times you’re tempted to look away, to open a new tab in your browser, to go back to whatever task was the previous victim of you short attention span (this blog post, perhaps).

The piece starts with a short review of  David Shields’s book “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto,” which Shields created in its entirety by splicing together quotations from other works.  You can read an excerpt here. But Kakutani’s commentary doesn’t dwell on written texts.  It envelopes examples from literature to technology (e.g. Twitter, Google Wave) to reality TV (Jon & Kate Plus Eight, Jersey Shore) to art (a 3-D rendering of Picasso’s Guernica on YouTube), music and video games. 

Interestingly, the UK’s The Guardian recently asked, “[Is it] time for a press award for crowdsourced journalism?

What is the result of this copy-paste-collaborate-remix culture on storytelling?  To some degree, we’re already recommending this approach to clients when we suggest blogs or Twitter accounts with multiple contributors. But the cultural shift is not only about a new way of creating content; it also reflects a new way of consuming content.  A consumer might read an executive’s short statement in one place, jump over to read a tweet or two, scan an outsider’s comment on the company blog and then skim the list of headlines on the company’s press releases Web page.

If content consumption has become like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, what’s the best approach to telling a business story?  Do we jump on the remix wave and become ourselves collectors and splicers, combining customer quotes, reviews, etc?  Do we feed the short attention spans of consumers by providing tiny morsels of the story in different places?  Do we try to keep telling the story at all, or let consumers tell our story in whatever form bubbles up from the collective?

Let us know your thoughts.  But first, go read Kakutani’s article.   All of it.  Trust me, it will be good for you. 

Contributed by @c_morgan