Last year I had occasion to look up from my quiet life and ask in horror, 'Am I a princess?!'
I blogged about it. Like Morrie suggested, I have for several years built myself a life of the things that support me, grow me, and encourage me. Why drag yourself down with the stuff other people find popular just because it's popular?
I'm not insular, I just prefer to put my energy into meaningful connections. The mass media tends to drain me of energy and leaves me with little left to give.
But if I stay 'inside', I will miss out on the community, and I won't know what I can give back, either. So I was exploring Mashable this morning, and found out about the next technological advancement in an area that really grates with me: automatic readers.
Apparently 'Topicmarks' is able to read through reams of paper and give a personalised top-five account of what it's all about. Roland Siebelink's presentation used a word cloud (infinitely useful as tool and metaphor, but old news), and had a few clever tricks in linking it back to indexes and quotes, but it didn't demonstrate anything that would convince me that a machine, however sophisticated, can understand what text is about. Everyone else seemed excited about its technological ability. I'll have to trust their judgement on that point.
But is it the point?
I agree, there are way too many words. And the problem runs the gamut from letting the idiot savant loose with a pen, to the expert who's showing off their cleverness. But they're a symptom of a deeper problem, and an auto-reader won't solve it.
In every case, if anyone is using too many words, for whatever reason, then the only real problem is a failure of the writer/speaker and their audience to connect.
And the fault could belong to either of them.
Here's why it won't work, however good the technology is.
1. Language is about creation. Language is for people to communicate with each other. When we all show up for that, and it speaks from the heart and to the heart, it is a new experience for both. A machine can't do that on my behalf. Otherwise it's like the prayer machines in The Handmaid's Tale. We don't want to go there do we?
2. It's rude.If you ask me to read a document, you expect that I will give it a certain level of respect. After all, it's your thoughts and ideas. If your document is not meaningful and important enough for my full attention, should you be wasting anyone's time on it?
3. I'm not your audience. If I can't be bothered to read it and understand it, then maybe we should both accept that either you've not thought it through, or I'm not your audience. Maybe we should set a new best practice of giving a high-level summary - or a clearer briefing before you do all that work.
4. It doesn't build relationship. The best documents or presentations (there are no paper presentations, but the two words are used interchangably) carry the reader to a new place on a level below the words themselves. The particular combination of vocabulary, nuances, voice, and ability of the narrator to listen to her audience adds up to a feeling that grows along with the idea in the reader.
5. It loses its impact. A meaningful, connected communication becomes an experience. It's not just novels that do this. Hans Rosling's talks are famous for emotionally gripping and memorable data (of all things!) A high-level summary would completely miss out that impact. And if you're going to skip the impact, what's the point in turning up at all?
6. What about all those other words? Each of us is excited and stimulated by different things. The joy of meeting other people is in discovering their experiences and point of view; the thrill of curiosity is in finding out what new and interesting directions we can pursue. Leave a machine to cull everything but the facts, and you'll lose another opportunity to be human alongside each other.
7. Lots of little words can bring big understanding. If it's stories you're glossing over, then allowing something or someone else to capture them for you will strip them of their power to move and change you. And if you are good at what you do, and if you do add fresh insight, then only you will be able to take those learnings from the content. Nobody else.
(And a sidenote on the idiot savant: Nobody thinks they're an idiot. Nobody puts rubbish work forward on purpose. Their words are important to them, and acknowledging them is important to their development.)
At the end of the video in this article, one of the judges is interested. He says he has 1400 news items to look at every day, and that every day it seems 75 of them are about the Verizon iphone (by the way, ironically, this is the only story in the article or in the video presentation. It seems they're missing more than one point.) He says it would be wonderful if something could distill down to a smaller group of articles he could learn from.
That's a fair point. But it sounds to me like he's seeking recognition, connection. What a shame our worlds have got so big we're looking to a subscription solution to help us cut out the noise.
I've got a better solution, one I've been using for a long time: I accept that I can't know everything, I get enough to be up to date, and then I switch stuff off.
And that works for communications as well. If a presentation or document or email thread or whatever isn't working, be brave, and be present, and get to the point. Go have a heart to heart and tell the person creating avalanches of words that it's just not working for you. You'll both learn, you'll cut out some noise, and best of all, you'll have a conversation.