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Think Infinite, Not Binary

This post’s title is a trap. Let me explain.

Today’s world of content creation is fiercely competitive for one thing: your attention. One technique that content creators use to get some of your attention is to require a minimum commitment. That is to say, they’ll create a very brief piece of content — if the text is short enough, you can read it almost effortlessly before you move on to the next hot issue demanding your brainpower.

The downside? The people writing, filming, or otherwise creating content sometimes leave out options or details that could be useful to you. (Oh, and hey, your attention span might be suffering, too, but that’s a whole different subject.)

The motivation for providing quick content can be as innocent as simply trying to get your attention, but it could also be more manipulative. If a content creator wants to steer you down a particular path, it’s much easier to do so when presenting only two paths, especially if the creator is confident that you’ll choose his or her preferred path. The content creator can use binary thinking to either shorten content or predetermine your choice.

What Does “Binary Thinking” Mean?

Binary ones and zeroesWhen someone says binary, the thing that comes to mind first is usually the 0s and 1s of computer processing. It’s the simplest form yes or no, on or off, active or inactive decision making. It’s thinking in black and white without any shades of gray.

In the case of content creation, it can often be a brevity of options presented as a compromise against the reader’s lack of time, or presented in simple terms because of a desired outcome. Binary options are quick to present.

Here’s an example: Last week, as I scrolled through my LinkedIn newsfeed, I noticed that one a thought leader posted a binary choice: “Work to live, don’t live to work.”

When I saw her statement, I felt instantly frustrated because I knew that these two options were not the only possibilities. And, I have to hand it to LinkedIn users, their critical thinking skills are doing just fine: I could tell from the comments that other users also disagreed with the limiting dichotomy presented.

The writer most likely intended to highlight the importance of work-life balance. But the excessive brevity, that pressure to reach an audience who would not take time to consume details, backfired and caused her readers to push back.

What Can Consumers Do to Resist Binary Thinking?

The good news is that you’re not a computer, so you don’t have to think in binary. You’re a human being, capable of an amazing array of thoughts and ideas.

At some point, a writer or YouTube personality or some other content creator will share a post or video giving you a limited set of options. It may even come from someone you like or admire. But if you want to resist the binary thinking, keep some critical thinking questions readily available. For example: 

  • Are these my only options?
  • What other options do I have?

Infinite Thinking!

It’s time to test your critical thinking powers now that you’re warmed up.

Given everything that you just read, what’s the trap in the title?

If you still have trouble seeing the trap, contact us.

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