To be more clear: Words on a page or on a screen are asleep, inert, doing nothing at all until they interact with you, the reader.
That takes effort.
An audiobook, on the other hand, propels itself. The words are spoken, whether you listen or not, so you better listen.
And a video is just as alive.
The next level up is new. As in news. Or previously unknown. When it’s breaking, it propels itself even harder, because we know that we’re about to hear something previously unheard.
And beyond that? When humans are involved. Not just news, but news from a friend. News that our peers are about to be talking about. Not just propelled, but amplified by our cohort and our culture.
Social media is built on the idea of propulsion. It’s not history, it’s now. The smartphone isn’t smart, it’s merely hot. Pulsing with the next thing.
[I know, you just got a text. Go check it, I’ll be here when you get back.]
This, I think, is one of the giant chasms of our new generation, always seen, not often noticed. That we’re moving from the considered words of a book or even a Wikipedia article to the urgent, connected ideas that propel themselves.
Words are a noun, attention is a verb.
The motion of an idea actually creates its own physics. Ideas in motion not only touch more people, they have more impact as well.
Slack is engineered for motion, the Kindle is a silent repository you have to press.
The cliche was that the author used to live for the solitary moments of considered thought and solo writing. “Leave me alone and let me write.” The publisher paid the bills with the backlist, the old books that sold and sold. Today, without propulsion, most people aren’t making the time or the focus to pursue inert wisdom. Without motion, the words get moldy.
Book publishing (and the making of movies, or songs, or articles) has always had an element of promotion associated with it, the act of introducing an idea to someone who needed it. What’s shifted is that the promotion has transcended most of the process, because the idea itself becomes the promotion.
It used to be that nothing was more urgent than getting punched in the face. Instant, immediate, personal. Today, we’re getting virtual punches, from every direction, all self-propelled, many of them amplified. The ideas that propel themselves on the tailwinds of culture will dominate, opposed only by the people who care enough to propel ideas that matter instead.