After decades of listening to jingles, slogans, and scare campaigns, it’s odd to hear a political campaign strategist complain about short attention spans. But in Monday’s Financial Review Mark Textor grumbled that the "the collective attention deficit disorder of those online" is making it difficult to focus on issues voters care about.
Textor’s irritation came to the surface last week amidst controversy over the Prime Minster’s men-in-blue-ties comments and an offensive joke in a menu from a Liberal Party fundraiser. He tweeted: "Today twitter went from simply losing the relevance plot to lunar. #tiesandmenusWTF."
In Monday’s AFR Textor contrasted the issue of electricity prices with recent claims about misogyny and explained why electricity prices had more impact with the electorate. But he went on to argue that even with the right issue it was harder to get traction in an online environment:
… by the time most have thought about or through the very basics of the issue at hand, the MSN and online political and business hobbyists have mutated the issue into some monstrous form of its simpler original self. This makes rational observations impossible.
But most problematically, true awareness identification suffers because the MSN-online media monster’s acute ADD causes a move off the real and ongoing community outrage on electricity prices and on to the (otherwise quite justifiable) one-off outrage about Howard Sattler in a microsecond.
Textor must have been thinking about this for a while. Last week he was tweeting quotes from an recent opinion piece by the Telegraph’s Peter Osborne. According to Osborne:
Twitter … reduces conversation to what is, in effect, a series of newspaper headlines. As a result, many users enter a kind of competition to make the most striking or outlandish comments, in order to grab the attention of their audience … This, in turn, creates a nightmarish political discourse that favours the short-term over the long-term, the sensational over the mundane, the false over the true, and the strident over the thought-provoking.
I’m pretty sure oversimplified, sensationalised, strident political discourse existed before Twitter. But perhaps Textor’s real complaint is that Twitter allows ‘hobbyists‘ to get in on the act.