Scroll Stoppers: Part 5 - Unscrollable
Why sometimes you just don't want the choice
Hi! Another week, another chapter from our research coming straight to your inboxes. This week we’re sharing Part 5 of Scroll Stoppers: six ways hybrid work is changing our attention. It’s been great having you with us the past few weeks - thanks for trusting us with your inbox. If you missed the first few weeks, check out parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. Usually, people release reports like this in one go. But we had our reasons for releasing it this way and it seems to be paying off. Thank you all for subscribing and sharing.
Sometimes the constant barrage of media just gets too much. I know there are times when I certainly just want to switch off and NOT LOOK AT MY TWITTER OR INSTAGRAM ANYMORE, DAMNIT. Of course, I’m addicted, as many of us are. And so when you see something that doesn’t rely on you scrolling endlessly through feeds, it feels attractive, nostalgic even. You want to stay with it, and with the moment. Whether that’s listening to an RJ on a radio channel discovering some new music and facts along the way, putting on some vinyl on your beautiful copper player, or even - dare we say it - picking up a good hardback.
Unscrollable should take no more than 10 minutes to read. If you want to go deep there’s a fantastic reading list at the end, as well as some quotes and a quick takeaway. If you just want the highlights there’s a handy downloadable summary here.
In a time of fast-paced growth across technology, culture, media (and, er, everything?), it’s interesting to see the value we still give to formats of the past—vinyl records, radio, handwritten notes etc. And when it comes to our media habits, we’re seeing similar behaviours.
Our research shows audiences are facing a cognitive dissonance between being able to choose from literally any kind of content about literally any kind of subject, and feeling like they can’t be intentional with their choices. (Netflix homepage, we see you.)
Unlocking our phone screens is like powering up a slot machine—we never know where the imminent sequence of events will lead. And in response we’re seeing people move away from infinite scrolling and algorithms designed to take us down the rabbit hole, and instead turn to less scrollable single-channel platforms.
It seems there’s value to be found in unskippable media. When we asked respondents about the types of content they couldn’t live without music, podcasts, and books came out on top. One interviewee explains, “I dislike how much control I have over my time. I feel that everything has to be such an active choice that it could get overwhelming. That’s what I like about radio—that I do not choose the music.”
Not only are we seeking a reduction in cognitive load, but perhaps there's a nostalgia in unscrollable formats like radio. Audiences are craving the serendipity of stumbling upon great content, tuning in midway through a funny segment or Shazam-ing a song as they browse through Urban Outfitters.
Like most of the behaviours our research identified, there’s a desire for personal connection in the types of media we consume, and curators, tastemakers, and friends’ recommendations are continuing to trump the algorithm. As one interviewee puts it, “face-to-face recommendations bring accountability. Phone communications make me lazy to follow up on recommendations. But if they came in person or via email, I would feel compelled to answer and more likely to follow up on them.”
If you’d like to go a little deeper, here are a few Unscrollable things for you to dive into:
On convenience, value and judging a book by its cover: “If we prefer a digital movie over a physical movie, then wouldn’t we spend more on it?” Research says that in fact “People find digital music, books, and games more convenient — but think physical goods should cost more.” A Pricing Paradox: We Want Digital but Will Pay More for Analog | Stanford Graduate School of Business (3 min. read).
Speaking of music: According to Luminate Data’s U.S. Year-End Music Report for 2022, worldwide overall streaming consumption grew by 25.6%, vinyl sales become predominant in physical album sales, while “catalog” music is increasing overall in proportion to current material. Cassette sales see an overall increase of 28%. “Vinyl already represents more than half (54%) of physical album sales, and digital album sales are continuing to plummet. It’s likely that at least half of all album sales will be on vinyl by next year.” Luminate Data Music Report: The Album Is Once Again A Vinyl LP (6 min. read).
On paperback books in digital environments, BookTok and the literary (re)discovery: “BookTok took off during the pandemic when people were stuck indoors and started to rediscover the joys and escapism of reading. Simultaneously, people were looking for human connection – and BookTok satisfied both. And, unlike stuffy literary circles, this platform was relatable: people in their bedrooms and living rooms, chatting to you about what they've read and enjoyed.” BookTok to bestseller: how TikTok is boosting book sales | Courier - Mailchimp (9 min. read).
On the power of personal recommendations: “Older generations rely more heavily on family, friends, and TV ads to learn about new products. Personal recommendations are the most powerful purchase drivers for Gen Z as well, but social media—which includes ads, videos, and online influencers—is increasingly important to product discovery.” Gen Z prefers people over marketers for product information (2 min. read).
On headphones and feeling like you’re in the room with the host: “As podcast listenership rose over the pandemic, reports emerged of people developing a kind of parasocial intimacy with podcast hosts – feeling, in some cases, like they were friends. Now, new research has revealed that how we chose to listen to podcasts could actually be enhancing our perceived intimacy with their hosts.” Listening to podcasts on headphones increases ‘perceived intimacy’ with host, research finds (3 min. read).
On deep-dives and our unexpected longing for long-form: “We've seen a consistent rise over the last three years of people searching for video essays on YouTube,” said Nicolas Szmidt, a Google expert in YouTube culture. “The topic is surging now as people are clamouring for more in-depth information about subjects they are passionate about.” New trend: Gen Z are loving long-form videos - Think with Google (4 min. read).
On nostalgia and our turn to analogue: “There’s been a huge surge in instant photo cameras such as Instax and Polaroid, while Eastman Kodak Co. — which once filed for bankruptcy in 2012 — is now struggling to find enough film technicians to keep up with the newfound demand for 35 mm film, according to the company’s vice-president of film manufacturing on the podcast Get Real in October.” The digital generations are turning to analogue as life gets complicated (7 min. read).
On analogue formats, the sound of error and the imprint of time: “Rental videos confront you with traces, ruined images, left behind by someone else’s fascination with a moment.” (Analogue Nostalgia and the Aesthetics of Digital Remediation (research paper; PDF).
And the trend revival-spiral of our retro-culture: “We’ll definitely start seeing more nostalgia for what seems like just yesterday. Already, I’ve been seeing a lot of interest in influencer aesthetics from around 2016. The pandemic seems to have heightened this – we really romanticise any cultural signifiers from 2019 or earlier.” Our obsession with nostalgia is driving a trend revival spiral (13 min. read).
One consistent comment from our respondents was how they like platforms that do not take their time and attention for granted. Spotify was a winner, as were radio and good old personal recommendations. The algorithm is becoming somewhat hated, as these excerpts prove:
I try to avoid certain platforms and focus on the ones like Spotify because it does not suck you in the same way, you can not sit down and scroll for hours.
Radio brings an element of camaraderie into an otherwise quiet room populated only by the tapping of your laptop if you’re working from home. More than one person has certainly told us that they like the companionship of the non-fussy radio when they WFH.
I stick to listening to the radio, since it takes that hard decision aspect out of my hands.
I dislike how much control I have over my time. I miss the serendipity of just walking past a shop and listening to something accidentally. I feel that everything has to be such an active choice that it could get overwhelming. That is what I like about radio - that I do not choose the music.
When it comes to working in an office (because a lot of us now have the option of working remotely and/or flexibly), it is seen as a more efficient space - people don’t lose themselves in finding that perfect channel to listen or watch. There’s so much to do at home that you just get on with it in the limited time you have at the office.
Office spaces are very efficient, especially if you have family. It is far less likely to go down rabbit holes when in the office space than at home.
But sometimes what you listen to in the office says something about who you are. So you choose more carefully then.
At home it is less of an active decision of what comes my way. When in the office I would choose something deliberately to listen to.
With the increase in scrollable formats, people have also had enough of being fed options by an anonymous algorithm. If someone they know recommends something, it is much more likely to be sought out.
I feel that there is a real push back against screens, and the slot machine feed. The reliance on personal recommendations has gone through the roof.
Some people take no other sources of recommendation, in fact.
When it comes to scrolling, for movies or music, to avoid that, I strictly only watch things out of word of mouth recommendations.
I only take recommendations from people I can trust.
According to our respondents when asked what the one type of content is that they cannot do without, even if they don't have too much time, the top 3 are all unscrollable mediums:
1. Music (e.g. Spotify)
3. Books (physical)
And The New Normal says that the only format-related word for which search interest remains high post-pandemic is another unscrollable medium: the vinyl.
We can’t hide from the fact that the avalanche of choice has made it harder for the makers of good content to find audiences. But it is not impossible.
Before you create your stories, think about where people might find them - how you’re going to reach your audience’s audience, because that’s whose recommendations they trust.
Social media is not the only place it’s at anymore. Think about offering unscrollable media as an option: can you make a book out of your online magazine, or a Spotify playlist?
How can you reduce the number of choices you give your audience? If you know them well, pick a few states of mind they are likely to be in, and only give options to cater to those needs.
That’s it for another week of Scroll Stoppers: six ways hybrid work is changing our attention. If you liked it, please share it with colleagues, friends, or anyone you think will find it useful. Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment. And you might want to subscribe to our other newsletters if you haven't yet:and .
We’re back next week with part 6 - Swiss Army Apps. See you then.
Also unscrollable: A number of my friends and I have been writing pen-and-paper letters to each other, even if we're also in touch via email or video or text. There's something absolutely unscrollable about that, and the really enjoyable collecting corollaries: fountain pens, ink, good paper and stationery. All of them SO analog and pleasing to the hand and eye.
Brilliant article - loved this especially - really feeling it - “Not only are we seeking a reduction in cognitive load, but perhaps there's a nostalgia in unscrollable formats like radio. Audiences are craving the serendipity of stumbling upon great content-“