Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team and an influential name in cyberspace, has inadvertently waded deep into the muddy waters of content strategy by suggesting that we should give up news.
Cutts revealed that by axing news, social media, and unnecessary emails for 30 days, his productivity increased massively. Additionally, he was able to read more for pleasure and to filter his email inbox more effectively.
My first response to this is one of mild sarcasm. That’s just great, Matt. Good for you. It’s a shame that it’s not always practical for the rest of us to undertake an exodus. We’re not all chief Kingmakers.
In partial defence of his experiment, I do like the diagnosis ‘email dysfunction’. Having recently assumed control of a set of defunct addresses at work, my inbound email has suddenly increased tenfold. Ideally, yes, email needs to be well-managed and streamlined to make it scalable, but we know it’s an operational necessity.
What he finds completely expendable, though – and turns on with greatest severity – is ‘news’.
On this, he promotes – several times, in fact – an extract from Rolf Dobelli’s new book in The Guardian, which describes news as the great many-headed monster that stifles our innovation and reduces our mental capacity.
Dobelli could do with an educational tour of the mid-seventeenth century when newspapers first exploded onto the market, which would allow him to consider the advances that news has made – and continues to make – for all forms of modernisation.
But I want to draw particular attention to two of his many sub-headlines.
“News hinders creativity.”
What utter rubbish! Writing news well (or, by extension, commentary or analysis) is a surprisingly underrated skill. It’s one that, even with 18 months of experience, I still feel far away from mastering.
We’re not all Thomas Gradgrind ‘fact’ machines; in fact, the broadening supply of news means that we’re inspired to look for ever more creative ways to deliver it.
“News is irrelevant.”
We conducted a small experiment here at Which4U just before the team broke for Christmas. I put together a short multiple-choice quiz which asked a series of questions, including the cash ISA limit and the next Governor of the Bank of England.
The answers don’t have the impact of this rather shocking discovery, but they did make me realise how much you learn and absorb over others when you’re engaged in that environment every day.
Why is news important in the field of personal finance?
Well, quite often, it’s because ignorance is bliss for banks and awful for us.
It’s much better for banks if nobody tells customers to check the rates on their old products because the introductory bonus rate has probably long since expired.
It’s much better for banks if we don’t inform anybody how to transfer their ISAs properly and leave them scared to even attempt it.
It’s much better for banks if we don’t tell them about pending collapses at Northern Rock, Lansbanki, or Cyprus, so that people don’t have time to react and protect themselves.
I don’t know what world Dobelli inhabits. Does he think the world operates under complete humanitarian and philanthropic principles, without any loopholes to be uncovered? It’s almost as alarming that such ideology is being supported by Google’s top brass.
Madeleine Bunting, columnist at The Guardian, has rebuked his claims on the same basis that I do with Cutts -they completely disregard the privileged position from which they are uttered.
On the ground, here, in the real world, it’s very different.
The best offers on savings accounts can last for just a few days. How will people have a chance of securing better rates for themselves if they’re never able to find out?
Without news, hundreds of thousands of British consumers would be stuck in an even bigger rut than they are currently, and banks would have even less reason than they do already to show some measure of competitiveness.
I’m a student of privacy. I find the public sphere to be large, and frightening, and complicated. But goodness me – do we need it! It’s all that threatens to keep transparency and good practice in order.
Are you convinced? Here’s our news column. Don’t write us off – or out – just yet.