Sunday, October 03, 2010

Thin Slicing . . .For Better Or Worse?

The term thin-slicing means making very quick decisions with small amounts of information. The term is most often used in the discussion of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 non-fiction book Blink, which analyzes the concept of “thinking without thinking.”

Gladwell posits that thin-slicing can have its uses or can be a mistake. If one takes a small amount of information to generalize or make decisions in whole then decisions may be made that really are incorrect. However, sometimes a small amount of relevant information is all that is required to make decisions and act.

So, thin-slicing is obviously a technique that's very popular amongst those of us entrusted with the task of reviewing music. There are never enough hours in the day to listen to everything as it should be listened to, and is this really necessary in the world of four four beats anyway, where repetition and "positive" predictability assure us, more often than not, whether a track is good, or if we are satisfied, long before it has finished?

Grateful as I am for the amount of free music I receive, (it's one of the principle reasons I started DJing and writing), there is a danger, that when the writing and the DJing aren't paying the bills, of not having enough time to do anything else but listen to what people are kind enough to send you and send feedback. How many of us are in the privileged position of being able to make a living out of this and have more than enough time in which to do it? There is such a weight of product out there that so much is obviously ignored. Having said that, most of it deserves to be, and I've written less and less recently because a lot of the time I'd normally devote to blogging has been taken up with listening. Consequently, I decided a few months back to put sporadic feedback up on the blog in order to have something to show for my efforts. After reading Gladwell though I'm beginning to wonder if it's really necessary to label my scribblings as "impressions" and to rebrand them as comprehensive, in-depth analysis.

This all depends, of course, on how serious an authority the writer in question is taken. Anyway, I'm a bit of a late comer to Gladwell, but I like what he says, or is this a very roundabout way of saying don't expect too much? I've never liked the endless contextualisation of some music writing. "Dance" music journalism has traditionally always fallen easy prey to this and the grandstanding introduction that accompanies some pieces can often come off as pretentious and off-putting, but maybe this is what thin slicing is for, to allow the writer more time to theorise and waffle. I'd like to think it's more of a bullshit repellent.

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