Why the rise of the ‘infinite scroll’ does not mean the death of long form content

Avatar photo Cedric Voigt - 4th Oct, 2023

When interface designer Aza Raskin created the ‘infinite scroll’ in 2006 – enabling users to endlessly move up or down through content with a simple flick of a finger – no one foresaw quite how addictive this tool would become. Its subsequent implementation into social media apps – notably TikTok – has produced a seamless user experience like none other, giving rise to an epidemic of shortening attention spans and addiction to bite-sized information. 

The infinite scroll produces an endless stream of content, pre-defined and perfectly tailored to the user experience via an algorithm. Each unpredictable but irresistible new clip provides  users a quick electric hit of instant gratification, leading to mindless scrolling or consumption. Furthermore, these snippets are quick, engaging, and well tailored to our weird and specific interests – perfect for our short attention spans.

The easily-digestible and oversaturated nature of short form media is both appealing and overwhelming. Raskin himself referred to it as ‘behavioural cocaine’. Alongside addiction to this content posing danger to mental health, online safety and more, the growing desire for shorter snippets of information across the globe could threaten the future of long form content. 

However, infinite scrolling on apps like Instagram, TikTok and X (previously Twitter) brings with it a plague of inaccurate or false information, unproven expertise and an unfulfilled craving for the full story. Putting the facts straight and providing a more complete overview, long form content remains an invaluable source. Furthermore, amidst the growing volume of information snippets, long form content stands out. Arguably, it’s of even greater value as a trustworthy source that solidifies expertise and guards against the influx of false and unreliable information. 

Long form content combats factual inaccuracy and fake news

As a GenZ user of apps like TikTok myself, I’m all too familiar with that ‘down the rabbit hole’ feeling of overpoweringly addictive scrolling. Rather than emerging in Wonderland, we return to the real world with an underlying sense of guilt, a warped sense of time passed, and a head full of half formed understandings collected from the wide but shallow pool of information we’ve scrolled through. 

Although we may emerge from an aggressive scrolling spree more informed than before, the information we have gathered is often incomplete, inaccurate or worse – false. What’s dangerous is that a large majority of users will take the information they consume at face value, contributing to an ill understanding of current affairs, cultural happenings, and more. 

When watching a quick snippet of information from an account with tens of thousands, even millions of followers, it’s easy to assume that the statements or opinions shared are well-substantiated with evidence, without checking the source. Fortunately, users are becoming increasingly aware of the danger of making these assumptions. A recent EU report on disinformation highlights the prevalence and growing fears surrounding fake news, as does recent uproar around X’s removal of its tool to report political disinformation. 

Longer form content holds an essential role in combating this issue. News articles, reports, podcasts or videos, not only provide a more complete and comprehensive overview, but are often delivered on reputable platforms, thus securing the trust of consumers. Furthermore, the quotes, facts and figures stated in this content can be easily footnoted or hyperlinked, increasing their validity and providing clear pathways to further knowledge if the reader so desires. 

This isn’t to say that short-form information bites from verified social media accounts are not of value, but to prove that longer form pieces of information remain of significant standing and are crucial in deflecting the falsities which can more easily pervade social media. 

Long form content proves expertise

Continual access to such an array of information has also given rise to an influx of unsubstantiated ‘know-it-alls’. These self-proclaimed experts also risk falling victim to gathering information whilst scrolling, and often share poorly informed, ill-supported insights as a result. With millions of fake accounts across the web, these experts might not even be real, and users are growing wary of who they can trust. 

This places an increasing demand and value upon those providing legitimate expertise. Long form content can be used to validate one’s professionalism (and actual existence). An article, report or blog provides the space to prove one’s knowledge. Amidst the clamour of ill-informed expertise, it gives organisations something concrete and reputable to hark back to. Furthermore, a comment or article in a highly-esteemed outlet can be trusted with confidence, as opposed to the ambivalence surrounding fake news and fake accounts. 

With so many supposed experts sharing their insights using short form videos and posts on apps saturated with content, even valuable information is lost in the flood. Producing longer form content is becoming a way to stand out from the crowd.  

Ultimately – we want the full story 

Even as users with short span attention, we still desire a more complete understanding of what we consume in our scrolling sprees. We often scroll on specific accounts to gain further insight into an influencer’s life. After watching short snippets we often look for the bigger picture – when spotting a short reel of a workout, it’s likely we’ll turn to longer videos on youtube if we were to try it.

There’s no doubt that the ‘infinite scroll’ is impacting the way in which we consume information. Given that these addictive apps are most common amongst younger generations, our engagement with content will evolve. Those wanting to grab people’s attention must recognise the hold that these apps have, and harness these new ways to engage and share information. 

However, having long form content to prove the breadth, depth and reliability of one’s knowledge is essential, especially if they may then choose to partake in sharing bite-sized pieces of this online. Although it’s important we are well-versed with modern trends and new methods of communicating, longer content provides the space to discuss concepts in full and prove solid expertise. It stands out amongst the millions of information snippets we now see whilst scrolling, and provides a comprehensive overview that satisfies our craving for the full story.

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