Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Brevity Lost

By Dennis Hinkamp

Your presence will say more than words.

One of my favorite quotations is: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter so I wrote a long one,” attributed to Mark Twain. I turned 56 this week and my appreciation for brevity has not yet peaked. Sometimes you have to say the wine has aged long enough and just drink it. Why write a novel when a haiku will do?

This is what I was thinking while flipping back and forth between the Westminster Dog Show and the Grammys. There is something to be said for just one person standing in front of a microphone and singing without all the smoke and fireworks. Similarly, I would like to see a poodle allowed the un-coifed dignity to actually look like a dog that would rather be rolling around in dead fish.

Like most social changes, I blame the death of brevity on the Internet and electronic gizmos in general. There was a time when people actually limited their writing because they didn’t want to run out of paper. Television stations actually taped over used tapes to save money. Photographers carefully considered which photos to develop because photo paper and chemicals were expensive. Now you can type till your fingers bleed and never fill up your hard drive. YouTube will accept hours if not days of your cute dog videos. And when was the last time you saw someone pull a photo of their girlfriend (wife, child, dog) out of their wallet?

One of my favorite parts of the Sundance Film Festival are the “shorts” which range from five to 40 minutes. Though I do admire a movie such as Titanic that can hold your attention for 194 minutes even though you know how it will end, I probably would be equally as satisfied with 90 minutes of tragic historical fiction. But if you are getting paid $500 million for a movie, long must seem like more of a bargain.

Trending shorter are Twitter and texting which are the drip of consciousness to the previous generation’s stream of consciousness writing style: short but not succinct. They are so instant that people don’t edit them and at times the writers seem to have Obsessive Compulsion Disorder coupled with Tourette’s Syndrome of the fingers as they fire off triteness that would make Hall­mark cards seem contemplative.

I’ve been counting words on a page like pounds on a scale for about 40 years now. Mental and imagined reader fatigue starts setting in at about 500 words. I’ve written a little more than 1,000 columns but the thought of writing a book just seems too daunting or maybe my attention span is as brief as my writing. I even like short sentences and paragraphs. I hope my obituary will read: He died. Google it. 

This article was originally published on February 29, 2012.