Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Your Life in 60 Seconds or Less

A number of months ago I heard that Smith Magazine had asked people to create a six-word memoir to encapsulate who they were. The idea was intriguing, but being a wordy type, I couldn't imagine being able to do it myself (not that I was asked to). The closest I could come up with was, "Too many words could go here." Which, in retrospect, sounds rather thought provoking, as if I had so many life experiences that they couldn't be summed up within six words. Actually, the meaning was a little less self-important. I just meant I was indecisive on how to say "spent life eating chips on couch."

For people such as myself, brevity is not the soul of our wit (sorry Polonius, but then again, it wasn't yours either). We like an excruciatingly long sentence (with inventive grammar) that bends and bows under its own gargantuan structure until it just about fails... just about. We like Charles Dickens just to see how he can fill a page without using a period. To us verbose sorts, an idea described in 140 characters would be about as anemic and frail as one of those supermodels from the early 1990s. (I'd hate to give away the joke, but that last sentence really requires your counting skills to be fully appreciated.)

Now I find myself faced with the challenge of having to create a sixty second video as part of an application process. I. Am. Doomed. You might be thinking, "Oh, sixty seconds is plenty of time to talk about something. Easy-peasy." You'd be surprised how wrong you are. Try speaking off the cuff about a subject for sixty seconds. I'll time you. Ready? Go... (tick tock, tick tock)

Done yet? Did you hear all those little speech ticks? The "umm"s and tounge clicky sounds? Did you notice how you stalled a lot or lost focus and went down a tangential path? How confident are you that you have proved whatever point you were trying to make? It's frustrating, isn't it? That was a lot of questions marks, wasn't it?

Using a minimal amounts of words to maximum effect (written or spoken) is an art. I suppose it always has been. But now instead of being a character trait of the endlessly chill or totally zen, it's just a reality of our hyperfast existence. If you can't communicate what you want in a text message, you are unreasonably taxing someone's time. Leave out the flowery descriptions and get to the point. Don't get me wrong, I see the merit to that approach.

But it's also a lot less fun to communicate like that. In the business world, sure. Short, concise, to the point. Perfect. But in our real lives, it seems a shame to parse our communications down to the bone so intensely. The beauty of words is that they are one of the few free commodities in life. So why be stingy or lazy with them? Some things need the flowery descriptions. To bastardize another Shakespeare quote, would a rose by any description read as sweet? No. It wouldn't.
posted by jw