As Simple As Possible, No Simpler!

On: October 23, 2008
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About Chris Castiglione
Chris is an alumni of Universiteit van Amsterdam and the New Media M.A. Currently, he is the co-founder of One Month (www.onemonth.com), and the host of the On Books (www.on-books.com) podcast.

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I’ve also noticed the uncomfortable “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” phenomena in which Nicholas Carr explains how the web’s immediate access culture is causing many of us to loose our deep reading skills. I believe that simplicity can be magnificent, and that “as simple as possible” isn’t synonymous with “as short as possible”.
Einstein, As Simple As Possible

That quote above carries the gist of everything I’ll say below about why communication should be concise. It gets right to my point and so if you feel sufficiently informed just by reading that short conclusion then by all means feel free to scan, skim or skip down the page – but if you’ve read this far I’d like to give a few reasons to explain this conclusion.

After all…
Neil Postman, a definition

Twitter Acceptance Speech
When Twitter won the SXSW Web Awards in 2007, founder Jack Ev gave the acceptance speech, “We’d like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!” Well, that’s pretty clever of those guys. And so, what if all acceptance speeches were limited to only 140 words?

Well, you might think “Great, we won’t have to sit through another one of those excruciatingly long Oscar speeches like when Cuba wouldn’t get off the damn stage!“. If we demand that the winners got directly to the point then it would trim an hour off of Oscar night! Well, if getting to the end was the purpose of watching, then why watch the show at all and not just read about the winners the next day? It’s the same reason that some people can watch a recorded baseball game from earlier in the day instead of just asking “who won the game?” It’s because we’re interested in the story, and not just the conclusion.

Music and Life
British philosopher Alan Watts illustrates the art of life through his composition Music and Life:

Alan Watts, Music and Life

If that were true then…

Alan Watts, Music and Life

By communicating only the main point we miss the eloquence and artfulness in music, language and of life. We know how the story ends, but miss the story.

Alan Watts, Music and Life

Of coures this is true for literature as well. Could we really retell Hamlet in 140 characters?

We’re Here To Fart Around

In Kurt Vonnegut’s collection of short stories A Man Without A Country he decries our lust for technologies that automate our daily lives.

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country

Vonnegut illustrates the joy he finds in the seemingly banal task of visiting the post office. He admits that he could very easily email the essay to his editor in New York, but that he prefers to fasten his printed pages together with this “thing made out of steel, called a paper clip” and walk them to the post office himself. Over a few pages of clear writing he takes us through his “dance” where he seals his envelope, walks a few blocks through New York City, chats with strangers, encounters a beautiful woman with whom he often crosses paths at the post office, and finally he feeds his letter to “the giant blue bullfrog.” Simply to be here on this planet and get to the point isn’t always the point – and it is far less sexy than dancing our way to the post office.

Short As Art

Short writing is an artform in it’s own regard: most notably the Japanese haiku, but now we’ve seen the rise of the 4 Word Film Review, 6 Word Memoirs and 12 Word Novel. But we shouldn’t look at short messages as a replacement for all the world’s text. As Postman has pointed out…

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

But simple writing, as well as short writing, has a truckload of good uses (that I won’t go into here) and when used properly should transgress the art of writing – not reform it.  Through over-simplification we not only become stupid, but we become dull.

One Response to “As Simple As Possible, No Simpler!”
  • October 31, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    I heard Vonnegut tell the Post Office story several years ago when he spoke at IU. ‘We’re here to fart around’ are words to live by. The whole point of GTD is to have more fart around time (which includes reading verrrry long articles and books, which I seem to have no problem doing despite using Google daily).

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