Hanging Ourselves on Soundbites

We are a society of soundbites. Having little time for the real story we are delighted when we come upon that pithy quote or 140 character twitter feed that keeps us informed.

Or does it?

I recently commented on an article that a friend had posted on a social media site. She responded graciously but pointedly “Marilyn, did you read the article?” Although she could not see me, I had the humility to blush from my toes to my eyebrows. I hadn’t read it. I had skimmed and picked out the one sentence that I disagreed with, the one thing I could become righteous about.

It was embarrassing and it should have been. I hung myself on a soundbite.

The reasons why are many. We’re busy, we’re preoccupied, we multi-task….we also want to sound informed and smart. We want to get on the proverbial band wagon, showing that we are righteously indignant by responding with piercing words through comments.

And that’s fine – except when we haven’t read the full article, we don’t know the full story. Or if we’ve just believed someone who is well-known with a powerful voice on the internet instead of critically thinking through the issue and seeking information that will inform. And then the righteous response we are so proud of is nothing but clamor in an already too loud world.

How do you frame your comments on issues? Do you read the entire story or do you respond to the soundbite? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m serious. How do we in a world so divided learn to respond without getting caught up in misplaced indignation and quick, poorly formed log-in-the-eye responses?

Would love to hear what you choose to respond to and how you respond in the comment section.

Posted by

Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

16 thoughts on “Hanging Ourselves on Soundbites

  1. This is an important post, Marilyn! I really enjoyed it and the comments. There IS little time, and people tend to hurry through everything, including time with family. I have always read the whole article… a whole book. If I don’t, it sits until I do have time to devote to it. I don’t always comment, because I don’t always have anything important to add. I hit the “like” button in that case.

    It’s great to have moments of realization and thankfully, we have wonderful friends to point out kindly, their observations of something we’ve done. What a wonderful friend to help you see that you may have overlooked something or focused on just one aspect of the article without really having read it! I’m always thankful for these people who help me along the journey!


    1. I do love the like button for that very reason. And being a fellow blogger I’m sure you know the feeling of wanting to be able to read more but with the demands of daily life and discipline of wanting to blog as well, there is that need for balance. I loved the comments on this post as well. Makes me realize there is a bigger discussion to be had.


  2. Good questions Marilyn…however don’t be hard on yourself for scanning….this is indeed the bedrock of Journalism itself as developed by American newspapers, starting with Benjamin Franklin’s older brother through the huge newspaper circulation wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolf Hearst in the late 1800 and on into the 1920s. Good writing and editorials to be sure but also attempting to “out sensationalize” each other. Thus was born “Mudraker Journalism” and “Yellow Journalism”…..grab the readers attention….even if it deliberatly leads the reader to an incorrect assumption. Also this era fine tuned the inverted pyramid writing style answering the questions, who, when, where, what and if you have room how and maybe even why. Of course frantic copy editors who were also trying to delay the “to print” deadlines to get the very last second sensational news story would freely and literally (with sissors) chop off inches of galley proof on any story (or the last less unimportant part of any story) to make room for the new headline grabber (or soundbite as we now may call it). It is much harder to write and communicate well succinctly than it is to ramble on and on and force readers to stay with you……I appreciate your succientness and clarity Marilyn….a pleasure to read….keep scanning and let good writers develop clarity and accurate soundbites.


    1. So well said Al! Thanks for this comment and perspective. I feel far better knowing that it is part of the business to get me to just read that headline and soundbite. That picture of grabbing the readers attention even if it leads them into an incorrect assumption is well said. So my question is – How do we deal with all this with integrity – being willing to put ourselves out there with opinion even if we don’t have every fact (an almost impossibility) and to be humble enough to accept potential challenges to our facts, yet hold to the opinion as important? I feel like I’m talking in circles but I think you may get what I mean.


  3. Good post, marilyn, and some great comments. I especially like Outtasiteoutamind’s reminder that good writing is succinct and to the point. Thanks to all.


    1. I really appreciated that comment as well and it makes me think about blogging and how to make posts clear, understandable and compelling all in one breath! :) Ha.


  4. Marilyn, it does not have to be a bad habit to skim through text. It is a good practice for students — one that probably saves their sanity and gets them through their studies. As your friend “outtasiteoutamind” remarked text often is too long, too wordy.
    Indeed certain text has to be read in its entirety and some text has to be reread several times to truly understand the deeper meaning and learn from it. One has to decide when it is best to skim and when it is beneficial to delve in. And at times it might take an outside nudge to alert us as did with your example. As long as we are open to learn, willing to accept criticism, and are flexible, we will fare well in a society with information overload. Petra


    1. Great point from another perspective. And I did learn the skimming technique well I think! But as you said, I needed that “outside nudge” to have it sink in that if I’m going to comment I need to be willing to read something in it’s entirety (mostly) with hopes that the person will have been edited:)


  5. I love the point you are making, and as a theologian, know the importance of reading something thoroughly, carefully, in its entirety. But there is also something to be said for good editing and precision in language (the two aren’t mutually exclusive). As I oft have reminded my students, Pascal once apologized saying “Je N’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.–I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.”


    1. Love this! I read a recent article on editing as the work of God and loved the essay. That ability to be precise, clear, make a point without belaboring…yes to that! Had never heard the Pascal quote but well worth repeating it on another blog post. Thank you so much!


  6. interesting point you are making here. Personally, I have always felt a sense of obligation to read through a whole article. I read it, just to read it. If it hits a nerve with me, then yes, I post my opinion; otherwise, I might comment on how I agree or disagree with it. If I don’t have time to read through it all, i just don’t comment. As far twitter posts, honestly, I find them inspirational. There will be some short sentence that makes me think, even if it is a stupid one…(lol) and sure enough out will come a poem.


    1. This is exactly what I want to develop – a discipline to read through the whole thing if I’m going to comment and to skim if it’s interesting but I don’t have time to comment or read the whole thing. Love your reaction to twitter!


  7. Wow, this is so true. That’s my tendency – I like to be on top of things, keep up with everybody in my ‘circle’… and too often that leads to hanging ourselves on soundbites. One thing I’ve learned from a difficult experience in my life: never, ever leap to a conclusion or decision about something till you’ve seen all four sides of it. Because the chances are good that you’re only hearing one half of the story. If that.


    1. So wise – I learned it so much later than you have….and still struggle. It’s easy to blame on a passionate personality and say “That’s just the way I am..” Instead of looking at where my passion may be misplaced. Thanks for this Jessica.


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