Sound Bites Will Not Change the World

Last week I posted a 2-part post on the use of social media for fundraising. Nestled in among the many thoughtful comments about that post was the suggestion that the post was just too long.  Later, that same person posted to the same effect at Twitter: “Dang that was a long post!”

That “long post” was 800 words. In a standard, single-spaced text document, that is about a page and a half.

At first, I took the comment to heart. I know sometimes I use this blog to think out loud, and that such thinking can lead to lengthier posts.

When I considered editing down the post, however, I realized I could spend an hour and still only shave off perhaps 100 words. My guess is that the remaining 700 words still would not have been “short enough.”

Then this happened: The Chronicle of Philanthropy picked up my post, and abridged the guts out of it, turning my 800 words into 200 words.

What was the result?  While readers had thoughtfully debated the merits of the “real” post, Chronicle readers, in short sound-bite paragraphs, vehemently disagreed with the abridged version. If you read the comments at my post here, and read the comments for the Chronicle’s abridged version, you would never think people were reading the same piece. Truth be told, after reading the abridged version, I am not sure even I would agree with it!

In the era of Lincoln, a political debate would go on all day. A single speech might last three hours. Three hours!

Sound bites, 4-paragraph blog posts and 140 character Twitter posts will not change our world. True change requires thoughtful discourse, with time to digest and reflect, time to refocus and change our assumptions, to consider different ways of thinking and being. (That is why, for example, our 5-day Immersion course for consultants is 5 days – one cannot simply dip a toe in the water and “Voila!” transform one’s way of being!)

Don’t get me wrong. I love Twitter. It is a fabulous party and I have met amazing people there.

But if I meet someone interesting at a party, that party conversation isn’t likely to change my thinking. That change will instead happen after the party, when we head out for breakfast and talk until dawn.

There – done. And only 393 words.

6 Responses to Sound Bites Will Not Change the World

  1. I am so glad you posted this Hildy. I know we are all short on time these days but I couldn’t agree more with the idea that “true change requires thoughtful discourse”. I think this is what Obama is struggling with now too. How do you get people to stop and really grapple with the hard issues.

  2. Jack:
    LOL – actually, when I saw your long, thoughtful response, it made me happy. Keep ’em coming!

    And Pearl, I think one of the keys (don’t have them all, for sure) is to talk to those who will listen, and to keep working to expand that group.

    Thanks to you both!

  3. Hildy, my hat off to you.

    First, I wasn’t aware that there were unspoken rules about the length of a post on a personal blog. (The key word here being ‘personal’ – this being your own space, you can post a translation of War in Peace in every single language if you so chose to.)

    Funnily enough, I have seen much longer posts discussing particularly trivial matters – and no complaints were hatched there.

    Secondly, sadly, we’ve become a nation of scanners – not taking the time to fully immerse ourselves, opting to grab the fast-food version of just about everything – and that includes our reading habits.

    This stems from a combination of things: the overabundance of information accessible to us (if you’re drowning in it, it could be a timely signal to check your filers) and the fact that our daily lives have become too chaotic to digest everything that’s put in front of us (again, selective reading comes into play here).

    I, too, love Twitter. But in our age of micro-blogging, text messaging and monosyllabic communication, the context is often buried, and in some cases, it is just lacking. Sure, these snippets of information enable more consumption; but often at the cost of sacrificing quality over quantity.

    A concept or idea cannot be distilled to its bare basics for the sake of appeasing and pleasing an audience. If the concept or idea one is trying to convey needs 800, 1000, or 1500 words, then so be it. Not every idea can be boiled down to a sound bite – nor should it.

    In high school, many students often chose to read the abridged versions of the classics (Cliffs notes, I believe they’re called). I dare you to find someone who could give a thorough analysis of the novel and its protagonists after reading the quick and dirty version of a Shakespeare novel.

    Last I checked, nothing on the Internet is mandatory reading. If a blog post is ‘dang, too long’ – hey, just move on.

  4. Romi:
    Methinks your comment is a tad too long!

    I am so blessed to have such thoughtful readers at this blog. If something you read here, whether a post or a comment, makes you all think this much, I am truly tickled!