Political Opinion with Blinkin’ Lights

David Frum makes some excellent points in this video op-ed, which is accompanied like many such pieces with flashy, ever-changing graphics. I have some doubts that this is an effective method of communication for complex ideas.

Clearly, the parade of images holds the eye and at some level entertains, but my suspicion is that if you interviewed viewers afterwards, their memory of the actual content of what Frum said would be lower than if he had simply talked, or limited himself to a few static charts/graphics at key points (and BTW: what is wrong with so many people that listening to cogent political analysis for 217 seconds without blinkin’ lights embedded is beyond their attentional capacity?).

ht: Andrew Sullivan

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

15 thoughts on “Political Opinion with Blinkin’ Lights”

  1. While I enjoyed the style of the quirkey animation It seemed to jump around too fast for it’s symbolic meaning to sink in. Yes the animation was more distracting than enlightening.
    I think this is a problem of young guns being put in charge of technical and creative decissions. In my first studio job as a young illustrator I sat in a room with a half dozen other talented young artist who for the first time were in control of all the technical tools of the modern printing and publishing industry and we itched to try out all of those tools. In short, we used every trick we could think of for the sake of using it. Losts of fun, great learning experience and portfolio builder but the work suffered. As I got older I learned to Keep It Simple Stupid!

  2. I have a similar problem with a lot of modern TV and movies. I think perhaps it’s a case of video games training the younger generation to expect frequent, sudden changes of viewpoint.

  3. Insert rant here about “Why is a talking head for 217 seconds better than a text essay I can read with better comprehension in half the time.” But yes, the graphics here are clearly a case of someone too much in love with “I can” and not giving enough thought to “whether I should.”

    1. Why is a talking head for 217 seconds better than a text essay I can read with better comprehension in half the time.

      It has to do with the cadence and volume changes and tone in his delivery.

      I was distracted by the graphics the first time because I wanted to catch how he delivered his argument. IMHO the graphics help a little bit, but may require you to watch twice to catch everything.

  4. While I can’t comment on the merits of this particular presentation style at the moment (I can’t listen to the video at work), different people do process information differently (often very differently). This is something that you learn fairly quickly in HCI. A simple example: For information retrieval tasks, some users do better with search-based techniques while others prefer navigating a hierarchical structure.

    The same applies to how we process information in general. Some people prefer the spoken word, some prefer the written word, and yet others do better with visualization techniques. Personally, I don’t process spoken information all that well (though, oddly enough, I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at giving talks myself). When attending a conference, I generally get better results from reading a paper than from listening to the accompanying talk. An important aspect for me is that with written text, I can both control the pace at which I access the information and revisit earlier parts as needed (live speakers do not have “pause”, “rewind”, or “fast forward” buttons; and even with videos, this is somewhat cumbersome).

    Also, redundancy is generally good (when done well). If you convey information in multiple ways, then you can both increase information retention and make your presentation more useful to a wider audience. I agree that less distracting visuals may still be a better solution (again, I’d have to actually listen to it to form an opinion).

  5. In answer to Frum’s last question: “What’re you going to do about it?” I’m going to remember that Frum was key player in the Axis of Drivel, a mouthpiece for the Iraq war, served on the last Giuliani campaign and is in general a toxic, sociopathic banality with a facile grasp of everything and an ethical grasp of nothing. All the points he makes here are good, if a bit obvious, but implicit overall is the lie that Both Sides Are to Blame. Now if Frum had said, ‘Virtually all of this is the fault of self-described conservatives, and the offical policy of the GOP,’ then some the things said might have been elevated by courage and honesty beyond banality. But that will never happen, because after all, it’s Frum — spoiled princeling from the hinterlands, and evidence, along with Krauthammer, that we’re fencing the wrong border.

  6. Am I the only one who boycotts video “Op-Eds” as a waste of my time? Thankfully no. I second BrianH’s rant.

  7. what is wrong with so many people that listening to cogent political analysis for 217 seconds without blinkin’ lights embedded is beyond their attentional capacity?

    Soon as their is a time out at an NBA game what happens? Near naked cheerleaders jump out and shake bosoms and “booties” to uptempo music. Got to keep the cows happy. Got to give them eye-cud to chew. 217 seconds is an eternity when you’re your dealing with adult and teenage adolescents. What was Huxley’s most brilliant insight in Brave New World? Bovine and ovine happiness via eternal adolescence. Have you had your testosterone chewing gum today and a shot of botox?

    Bring out the clowns, the jugglers, and teats straining at spandex…
    Keep the images spinning.
    I’m bored.

  8. I find it striking how many of Frum’s points _as articulated_ seem so closely aligned with what should be Dem talking points, particularly the part starting at about 2:10: Far seeing v. in the moment? Wiling to compromise, or must win at all costs? Sounds almost like Frum just endorsed Obama. Of course Frum is a Romney man, but it must take some serious cognitive dissonance to be a GOP voter after just saying all this.

    As for effectiveness: Frum asks the right question at the end, but my response is: So what _am_ I supposed to do about it? Go vote (for Obama)? Go join some local organization? It would be great if he had given a couple things we actually CAN do. We certainly have little power over over the GOP and the Tea Party elected officials in Washington (at least from here in Cali.)

    1. No cognitive dissonance is required, just healthy skepticism. Frum has stated that he supports Romney precisely because he has no faith that Romney will hold himself to his own talking points.
      On what we can do — Harry Reid could finally remove the filibuster, right?

      1. On what we can do — Harry Reid could finally remove the filibuster, right?

        Only if he has 49 other Senators that want to do so as well.

        1. Not in the midst of a session. It would take 60 votes to change the rule, I’m pretty sure.

  9. I found the animation no different than the balloons in a comic strip. It added to what was being said. Moreover, it didn’t distract me but helped keep my attention focussed on what was being said. Much better than a Power Point lecture. People just talking can be terribly boring. As to what I remember from the four plus minutes I remember that Frum is a Canadian – those vowels! I also remember that his opening lines fooled me — I had forgotten about Fannie Fox and the fountain and everyone having a drink together after 5pm. That made me listen more carefully to what Frum said later about a lack of morality not being a hindrance to getting things done. That seemed to be his central point that our current preoccupation with practicing litmus test politics needs to change. I agree.

  10. It’s sad to see him hung up on “Congress hasn’t passed a budget in 3 years” and “Earmarks are growing so fast!” when neither are very important at all in the grand scheme of things.

  11. Remember, Frum was a speech writer and also wrote a (probably more than one) boot-licking book praising W.
    That doesn’t mean that what he says is wrong.
    However, it does mean that he (and we) should recognize that his former comrades are the major cause of the problems he describes.

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