The Menace of Tiny

Twittermicro“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
– William Shakespeare

‘I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit.”
– Stephen King


Everyone wants us to be brief.

Keep it short.


But let’s remember that Stephen King’s last book 11/22/63 was 880 pages long.  And Shakespeare’s works total 884,647 words in all.

And, let’s face it, brilliant as he was, Nietzsche was bat-shit crazy.

Is shorter really better?

Of course not.  All you need to do is look at Moby-Dick, War and Peace, Our Mutual Friend and the Holy Bible to know that elegant, brilliant writing can often be quite wordy.

Yet in social media we’re being forced to get shorter and shorter.  First there were blogs that reduced thinking to paragraphs rather than pages.  Followed by Facebook which reduced writing from paragraphs to sentences.  And then Twitter which reduced sentences to words.

Are we really better off communicating like this?





Now we have a new wave of brevity thrust upon us in the form of Snapchat and Twitter’s new Vine app – short-form videos formats that are measured in seconds rather than minutes.

Six seconds to be exact.

No doubt there will be a ton of uses for Vine – which is already gathered up steam in the social media world as the next big thing (although it took a big hit when one of the most popular uses quickly became pornography).

Expect a wave of six-second videos making a splash at SXSW this year.  Expect a plethora of new case studies about innovative ways brands are using short videos to attract customers and increase awareness, buzz and engagement.

But as we boldly jumped into the next big thing it might be time to take a moment to wonder if shorter is really better.

Does reducing marketing, advertising and communication to its minimalist roots undermine our ability to actually connect?  Does brevity force us to lose context and clarity?  Is misunderstanding and misinterpretation a natural consequence of our rush to be brief?

And the biggest question of all.  Does brevity lead to tiny thinking?


Folger Library FAQ on Shakespeare

Business Insider article “How to Use Vine”

Snapchat blog

6 Responses to “The Menace of Tiny”

  1. darryljonckheere January 29, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Part of the problem I think is that people’s attention spans are getting smaller. The Web encourages skim reading and our tendency is to move around from site to site.absorbing bits and fragments of information. Everything now has to be instantaneous or people move on.

  2. Sorry, Darryl, I only got halfway through reading your comment. Waaaaay too long…

  3. Ideally brevity leads to exacting use of words, searching for just the right word to give definition and nuance to a message. For some this leads to an expanded vocabulary in an effort to be understood using minimal characters, which I enjoy. For others it leads to banal comments, retweets, etc. It is a challenge for even accomplished writers to be clear- never mind nuanced -in email or text leaving most to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. It is a major challenge for my students to express themselves in concise “business writing” VS. a english paper primarily because their vocabularies are so limited by their culture of short bytes of information, texts and tweets. Enjoy your blog, TTYL.

  4. Hi Megan:
    Nice to hear from you and thanks for reading. While I agree that writing short is difficult so is writing long. And as you note we seem to be losing the art of writing (or even reading) long forms of writing.

  5. George,

    As a marketer that came from academia focused on theoretical thinking side of advertising, I have to say that this push towards shorter and more concise communication is definitely going to kill our education system and how we communicate with each other beyond that. Everyone seems to believe that not only is it perfectly acceptable to use shorthand form of words even in a professional setting, they believe that everyone who receives such a message will understand it.

    Now, I can understand wanting a strategic plan to be 2 pages rather than 20, but this continual push towards abbreviating every word that comes out of our mouths or is written on the page promotes laziness and eventually, we may be forced into saying nothing at all.


    (PS.I’d like to also see this generation take on George Lippard’s Quaker City and all 3 novels in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with some Kant thrown in there-and come out unscathed.)

  6. Hi Lilian:
    Moby-Dick is doomed!

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