Keep it short and sweet
We are affected by our technologies. With a hammer, everything is a nail. Our tools change the ways we think and talk. “Steaming mad” and “under pressure” recall the days of the steam engine . Today we describe the brain, and even the universe, as computers .
As we move from books to Google, the way we read and retrieve information is affected. A book suggests objectivity and permanence, while a web page emphasizes speed and disposability. Why memorize anything when you can Google it (again and again) and power-browse in the search for the right information.
Concerns about the effect of a new technology on human thinking are not new. Over 2400 years ago, Socrates complained “[writing] is a remedy for reminding, not remembering… with the appearance but not the reality of wisdom. Future generations will hear much without being properly taught, and will appear wise but not be so, making them difficult to get along with.”
Today, any one of us plus Google knows more than the smartest of us did 50 years ago. We’re not necessarily smarter, but we certainly know more .
We don’t lack for information. Today our scarce resource is attention. Maybe we tend to ‘sample’ more than we used to and forego a deep understanding in a niche area for a shallow understanding over a broad sweep of topics? If we’re not asking the questions, our kids will: do you really need to remember anything, or can you just quote the snippets from a Google search? And who will know the difference?
As our information environment evolves, it’s unlikely that we’ll stop using Google and turn our computers off. So what to do? Adapt . As we publish information, more than ever we have to think about our audience and how they’ll be discovering, accessing, and reading our work.
Careful attention to subject lines, titles, keywords, and names will make our published content easy to find through searching or browsing. Concise content and generic formats like text files will aid readability.
Writing itself is redundant, and usually cntns mr infrmtn thn u nd to dciphr t . Neo-style guides for writing more effectively abound, and recommendations to “delete half the words and half of what’s left” are more evidence that keeping it short and sweet will encourage people to listen to your message.