Tuesday, March 18, 2014

tl;dr


When I was invited to write a weekly column for the Boston Globe (the original Science Musings) those many years ago, I thought it took at least a thousand words to say anything that anyone would want to read. A gripping lead. Statement of theme. Development of theme. Recapitulation of theme and catchy exit. A thousand words were about right. I was paid by the column, not the word count.

As the years passed, I learned that brevity is the soul of wit, and the column slowly shrank. 900 words. 800. After all, he who coined the phrase stands as the greatest wit of all:
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.
So away with those outward flourishes. 700. 600? After twenty years and a thousand essays, the Globe column was in danger of shrinking away to nothing.

Then to the internet, where the pressure toward brevity is relentless. tl;dr. "Too long; didn't read."
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will limit myself to 140 characters.
Thank you, Lord Polonious. We need not nuance, nor context. My noble son is mad. I get it.

Let me retweet that. #progeny. My noble son is mad.

So what is the ideal length for a post in the blogosphere? Nuance and context vs. tl;dr? I seem to have settled in at around 300-400 words, somewhere between prolixity and a tweet.

(In transition the next few days, to snowy New England. Back here Saturday.)