There is another component, besides informational complexity, that explains why small stories are used: increased informational availability. There is more information available today than there has been in the entire course of human history and we are generating it at an ever increasing rate. There are more scientific studies, books, lectures, papers, experiments, philosophical tracts, esoteric websites in existence now than any one person could ever digest. There are probably more words written in a single week than a person could read in a lifetime. Which means that it becomes increasingly hard for anyone to know something about everything. There was a time when someone could be a “Renaissance Man,” excelling in all the scholarly fields. That is impossible now. It is becoming increasingly hard to even excel in a single field: people are not physicist anymore, but astrophysicists and theoretical physicists.
This has greatly increased the need for “small stories” in every facet of our lives. There is simply not enough time or brain-cycle capacity to absorb everything or even a tiny subset of everything. There is a lot of talk about the decreasing attention span of today’s youth and our need to have constantly changing stimulation Is that a reflection of some sort of deficiency in us as people or just a result of trying to keep up with the massive amounts of information that exist these days. Cable news stations are criticized for reducing everything to sound bites. But, really, what are their options? If you take the time to provide the full context for every story, including all pertinent prior events, you’d never get through the “news” in an entire day. There are more things that happen every day than could possibly be talked about.
That is not saying that cable news is a good thing. It is saying that it is an inevitable thing. As more things happen (and our society is currently increasing the number of things that happen every day) you have less time to talk about each of them. Less time to talk means you have to lose complexity, turn a real story into a “simple story.” It is this process, of condensing information into its most basic component, which is where problems start.
Smart people understand the process. They know that no one has the time to know the real story. So if you craft your press releases and your interviews in ways that are easily compressible, your message will be transmitted better. It is a process that Republicans have come to understand much better than Democrats. The reason that John Kerry was Swift-Boated is that he tried to turn it into a discussion, even though discussions do not get reported on. People do not have the time to know everything. They have to worry about their job, their kids, their sports teams, their investments, their TV shows, their music, their car, their mortgage, their health, their dinner, their marriage, their college education. Where in that is supposed to be the time to study all sides of the issues and reach an informed conclusion?
It is often argued that being informed about is important, where can be health, or retirement, or politics, or rasing children. But there is more conflicting information about all of those than anyone could read in a lifetime. How do you choose what to read? How do you educate yourself as to how to properly educate yourself about things that are too complicated for you to have the time to educate yourself about them? When a person is faced with deciding between two messages, one that says that John Kerry is lying about being a war hero and one that meanders about trying to explain why he doesn’t want to talk about, which do you think is going to win? It doesn’t matter which is right.
That is reality. This will never change. We will never have more time and less information. The history of human civilization tends towards complexity in all things. It may suck, it may be unfortunate, it may lead people to wring their hands and gripe about the old days. Doesn’t matter. It isn’t going to change. What is now important is learning how to craft small stories that tell the story you want to tell. Small stories that cut to the heart of your issue in the way that you want. Because no one has time to read all the small print all of the time.