There’s a movie called Idiocracy where an average Joe – his name really is Joe – goes into hibernation and wakes up 500 years later. In the future, everyone’s become so dumbed-down by media and gadget addiction that they’re all complete morons and Joe, played by Luke Wilson, is now the smartest person alive.
When I first saw the movie six or seven years ago, I thought it was a hilarious comedy. Now, I’m thinking it’s a shockingly accurate prediction of our future. Considering that it came out before Twitter, the iPhone, and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” you’ve got to admit, it’s eerily prophetic.
To be fair, I have no idea when our attention spans began to shrink to the point where we can no longer process anything but sound bites and instant gratification is about the only kind of satisfaction that even registers anymore. All I know is we’re getting there fast.
Think I’m exaggerating? Really? Tell me you don’t get itchy to check your email, Twitter feed, or Facebook page when you try to sit quietly and read a book these days. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
On the plus side, the bar is set so low that it’s never been easier to make it than it is now. If you’ve got anything on the ball, you can make it big in this information overloaded, communication addicted, ADD world we live in. It just helps if you’ve got one or more of these attributes:
You have the attention span of a flea. Since the ability to focus and solve complex problems is no longer of interest to anyone, you’re actually better off if your mind bounces around like a pinball machine. Sorry about the arcane reference but then, you’ve probably already forgotten what I was talking about.
You crave attention. They don’t call this Generation Me for nothing. If you’re a total narcissist who never grew up, loves to rant, rave, throw tantrums, and do pretty much anything for attention, you can be a real star these days.
You think simple. The ability to boil complex concepts down to simple terms people could understand used to be a powerful leadership trait. Now, if you have the mind of simpleton, if a video of an acrobatic cat doing back-flips keeps you fascinated for hours, then you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the masses.
You know how to type. It also helps if you’ve got really small and nimble thumbs. You don’t even have to know much about grammar or even how to turn on the autocorrect or spell check programs. Let’s face it; nobody knows how to write or spell anymore anyway. Just try to hit sum of the rite keys, u will b fine. LOL :D
You have the ability to count to 10. Go to any website focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, careers, or personal productivity and you’ll notice something fascinating. All their top articles – you know, the ones with the most Facebook likes and retweets – will start with something like, “10 ways to …” Any number between 3 and 10 is fine but, if you can break 12, you’re a freaking genius.
You can quote famous people. You used to have to be able to think critically and come up with insightful concepts to be considered someone others should follow. Now, all you have to do is quote people who used to do that sort of thing. Don’t worry about getting it right. Nobody will understand it anyway. Just make sure it sounds inspirational.
You’re a self-branded, self-published, self-promoted uberguru. To get published and achieve any level of credibility or notoriety, you used to have to convince somebody who knew what he was doing that you knew what you were doing. Not anymore. Just call yourself some kind of guru and make any kind of crazy claim you want. How about accountability? Don’t make me laugh. Nobody verifies anything anymore.
You know how to hyperlink and hashtag. If you can hyperlink like crazy, Google will love you and you’ll become an overnight viral internet sensation. Don’t worry about using the right links. Nobody has time to click through anyway. Also use tons of hashtags on Twitter.
You have no shame or dignity. If you’re willing to shamelessly give up your privacy and your dignity and put your whole life out there for anyone to see online, on TV, whatever, as long as you’re willing to get a few DUIs, pull crazy stunts in public, or flash the camera every now and then, you’ll crush it out there.
You can lie with a straight face. If you can tell people what they want to hear or get them all riled up by blaming someone else for their problems, if you can do that without feeling the slightest bit of guilt or regret even though there’s not a shred of truth to what you’re saying, you can actually become a political leader.
Incidentally, if you think this is all just a little too cynical, keep one thing in mind. The movie Idiocracy may be set 500 years in the future, but it actually came out in 2006. It only took seven years for it to jump from over-the-top satire to plausible reality. No kidding.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.