Sound Bites


This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’.  Exodus 3:14.

Increasingly, we are living in an age where “sound bites” dominate the news and our culture.  For those who are computer challenged, a “byte” is a unit of digital information.  It came about with the advent of computers. Historically, it was the smallest number of bits used to comprise a single character in a computer. For that reason, it is the smallest unit of memory.

In Exodus, when Moses was confused as to his authority, God had a very simple response.  Just tell them that “I Am” sent me.  Not a deep theological explanation.  Very simple. It was a sound bite.

The term “sound bites” is a takeoff of the computer “byte”. It is a short sentence or phrase that characterizes the essence of what someone is saying.  It often is just a paraphrase, but unfortunately, the sound bite has become the entire news.  It’s like a headline of a story, only no one bothers to read the entire story to capture all the fine points and intricacies of what has been said.

I was watching a news program recently where the discusssion involved reviewing what happened in the recent Presidential election in the US.  The question raised was why one candidate’s message didn’t resonate or connect with voters.  One candidate had distilled his message into four words.   The other had written 100,000 words on the same topic. No one read it and the candidate lost to the sound bite. The four words trumped 100,000 words.

Our millennials are accustomed to sound bites rather than lengthier discourse. Their attention span is 8 seconds.  That’s hardly greater than the attention span of a gnat. They are comfortable with slogans and headlines as being the entire story. Unfortunately, it is not.   I love watching interviews on the street with millennials who, when asked a pointed question about an issue, can only utter the sound bite but not give any rational thought as to what it means.

The NBA (National Basketball Association) is currently considering changing the rules as to the end of the game. Current rules permit teams that are behind to call time outs or cause fouls which draws out the length of the game.  They are losing the millennials as an audience because of their short attention span. The NBA knows that the millennials are their next audience, and if they lose them, they will lose money.

And Generation iY (Gen iY) is getting worse than the older millennials.  Gen iY is the part of millennials (Generation Y) who were born after 1990.  The “i” stands for the “i” in iPods, iMac, or iPhones.  This part of Gen Y has only known smart phones and not their predecessor: mobile phone with few features, or dumb phones. They have grown up in a total digital environment.

It seems to me that they are not alone in their embracing slogans and sound bites as being the equivalent of a deep understanding of an issue.  Certainly, there is no critical thinking involved. It has become a dumbing down of people, where slogans and sound bites pass for clarity of thought.  Perhaps that’s the lawyer in me, but words mean something, and just a few words don’t mean a lot.

According to Tim Elmore, studies and research shows that verbal comprehension is declining in Gen iY– and fast. The average vocabulary of a middle school child ten years ago was 25,000 words.  Today, it is 10,000.  That’s alarming.  And the boys are worse off than the girls due to a lot of factors, including heavier usage of video games.

But one of the biggest factors is the parents who have adopted parenting styles that don’t challenge their kids to become the best they can be. Instead, parents largely just want their children to have more self-esteem where getting a certificate of participation replaces getting recognized for real excellence.

I worry about these trends, because Generation Y and the next one, Generation Z, are our next generations. They are our future leaders, and if they can’t think beyond simple slogans or headlines, well, it just doesn’t look like it will end well for them.

It’s our obligation to “pass it on” to the next generation.  Not just tangible things like assets, but the intangible things like an education, wisdom and guidance.  Your life can make a difference in the lives of the next generation.  But it won’t happen unless you take the initiative and seek them out. They are out there wondering where you are.

My friend, Jessica Choy, a millennial, commented: “Where are the Godly mentors?  When will someone actually want to invest in me? I want to have a mentor; only no one wants to mentor me; they’re too busy.  (I) find this particularly true with the males in the church.”  Ouch.

If the next generation is to get past an understanding limited to sound bites, we have to engage them. We must invest in them and get them to realize that issues are deeper than slogans or headlines.  There are nuances that can’t be captured in a word or two.

Tim Elmore’s research indicates that Gen iY spends most of their days with other iYers, and only 15% of their time with adults.  “Instead of getting their learning from other generations, they get much of their guidance from the unprepared.”

Elmore continues: “They (Gen iY) are accustomed to learning on a need-to-know basis – but their need to know will increase if a person they trust and know well is the one sharing the information. They’re looking for mentors – authentic mentors.”

An advertisement for recruiting for the Marine Corps includes this slogan: “We’re looking for a few good men.”  Well, that can be said of the next generation.  They are looking for a few good men or women who are willing to invest in them. Our challenge is to respond to that need.  Our life experiences won’t mean anything if they are not shared with them.  Let this be your sound bite for now:  Find someone younger to invest in today.

MENTOR TAKEWAY:  The millennials need more than sound bites to think critically. Encourage deeper discussions and encourage them to read more. It can make a big difference in a potential future leader.

FURTHER STUDY:  Dr. Tim Elmore, a futurist and leader developer, has written a book entitled Generation iY, which is available at Amazon and other places. It’s an excellent read.

WORSHIP: Listen to Hillsong sing You Said.

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