CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

‘But Your Articles Are Too Long!’

Nov 28, 2019

We live in an age where reading something for 5 minutes is too much for some people!

With an interactive website one can get all sorts of interesting comments – to put it politely. You never know just what sort of remarks will come your way each day. It is usually a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many are useful, some are deplorable – and immediately binned – and some are rather curious, if not humorous.

As a case in point, I just recently got this comment sent to my website: “Bill, your posts are too long. Can you please do short (less than 100 word) summaries for those of us who are time poor to read.” I did not post his comment, but if I ever do, this is something like how my reply would go:

Thanks ****. The short answer would be ‘no’. A longer answer (if you have enough time for it!) would go like this: I try to post one article a day, with the average length perhaps 1300 words. Most folks can read a piece that size in four minutes. Even really slow readers should be able to read it in seven – max. If someone does not have 4-7 minutes a day, that may be their problem, not mine! They may need to assess their life and examine their priorities. For example, do they spend hours a day watching TV or in other timewasters?

As to the idea of a summary (hopefully you are suggesting this as an addition to the piece, and not as a substitute for it!), let me say this: With 5000 articles on my site, a 100-word summary of each – even with the new math – comes to a half million extra words. I am supposed to spend weeks’ worth of time to write these to help those who lack 5 minutes a day? I don’t think so! I appreciate the feedback, but this may not be something I can do for you!

But let me explain all this a bit further. Most things that I write about are rather important, often complex, and seldom easily reduced to a Readers’ Digest scenario. I could not even pen an intro in under 100 words to most of these deep and difficult topics.

Imagine trying to write a 95-word summary of the Trinity, the problem with socialism, the imprecatory psalms, the doctrine of inerrancy, the nature of the atonement, shortcomings with climate alarmism, or the case for just warfare, to name but a few topics. Sorry, but it is a no-goer.

While I am not inspired, just perspired, one might as well complain that the Bible is too long, and demand a condensed version (which already exists in fact). Sorry, but important issues require some amount of time to properly discuss, analyse and examine. If some folks are too ‘time short’ for that, they may need to look elsewhere.

Sadly this seems to be part of our dumbed-down culture. People are not trained how to think anymore, and they often are not taught the value of reading. Indeed, plenty of folks come out of our schools today functionally illiterate. And in an internet and entertainment age, most folks could not be bothered to read, reflect and think.

They prefer instant this and instant that – everything that is image-rich but content-poor. Indeed, this is such a widespread problem that decades ago the mass American newspaper USA Today decided that no article would go beyond a certain length (it may have been 700 words max). They were catering for a postmodern culture where imagery trumps words and ideas – and time.

Moreover, kids raised on television programs like Sesame Street are only used to fast-paced short segments. So their attention spans are shrinking rapidly. They just cannot sit still for more than five minutes to do some serious reading or reflecting. That is dangerous stuff indeed.

Would-be dictators love mindless masses of course. They know they are easily led and manipulated. They can offer them bread and circuses to keep them satisfied and amused, while they get away with murder – literally. And the social media is not helping things here.

With the advent of the internet and social media, we are being dumbed down even further. Not only is it all about short sound-bites, but there is WAY TOO MUCH stuff and info out there. No one can keep up with all of it. We can become overwhelmed.

Image of The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Focal Point Series)
The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Focal Point Series) by Arthur W. Hunt III, Gene Edward, Jr. Veith Amazon logo

So of course we must be very selective. But we cannot let the new technologies keep dumbing us down. There is real value in actual reading – and even reading entire books. Three years ago I quoted from Arthur Hunt’s important 2003 volume, The Vanishing Word. Let me reproduce some of that here:

When it comes to reading anything longer than a 140-character tweet, our ability to concentrate has plummeted. Be honest, now: How difficult is it for you to get through a half-hour Bible study without succumbing to the urge to check Facebook? It’s gotten so bad that Cal Newport proposed last month in the Times that fellow millennials take a radical step to save their careers: and quit social media.

Services like Facebook and Twitter weaken our ability to concentrate, he writes, because they’re “engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media throughout your waking hours, the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.”

Now, I don’t think quitting social media is the answer for most people, but Newport has a point. Joe Weisenthal at Bloomberg is also right to compare our virtual world of constantly-updated snippets with pre-literate cultures where information was transmitted orally. In a society without writing or books, he explains, ideas had to be short, pithy, and memorable—in other words, “viral.”

He concludes:

The written word and books changed all of that. They allowed people to move beyond the immediate and concrete to express more timeless, complicated, and abstract thoughts. A literate people can reason and debate with one another across the ages. And that knowledge doesn’t die with individuals, or change with the telling. In books, knowledge becomes practically immortal.

Which is why it’s disheartening to hear that so many Americans today—especially men—are ignoring these treasures. As professor Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, “The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency—the belief that the here and now is all there is.” It makes us not only more gullible but, as the recent consternation over “fake news” on both sides of the political aisle attests—easier to manipulate. billmuehlenberg.com/2016/12/14/books-reading-tyranny-postmodern-world/

Much more can be said about all this. For example, now and then I will get someone complaining on the social media that I post too much stuff. Well, maybe I do. But here is my defence: truth is important, and I will use whatever means I can to get truth out in the public arena while I still have the freedom to do so.

My days may well be numbered in this regard, so I will take advantage of the social media while I can. And no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head there. If they find themselves exhausted with my posts, they can always unfriend me – problem solved!

I am often tempted to tell these folks to brush up on Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”

The same with my (on average) 1300- to 1400-word articles. If folks do not have 5-minutes a day to read them, they can always find other sites to go to – maybe with a lot of pictures, cartoons and photos! But if they are so busy that they cannot find those daily short hunks of time, maybe they need to look at their schedules a bit, and perhaps readjust some things. Just a thought!

[1337 words]

14 Responses to ‘But Your Articles Are Too Long!’

  • Bill, I usually get to the end of your articles and feel that the time has passed quickly and profitably.

  • Many thanks Ian. That’s one vote of confidence!

  • Hi Bill,

    Your request to shorten or ”KILL” your article writing is likened to modern marriages, engaging in social media interacting, only by ”sound-bites”.

    As my saying goes regarding marriage, ”No bleedings no blessings.”

    Cheers & blessings

    Eric

  • LOL… I find it difficult to keep my comments to less than 100 words. Go ask my children!

  • Hi Bill, your work output is AMAZING.

    A productivity rate average of 1300 words per day is just incredible, especially given your words are considered, on deep topics, and often carefully referenced. Frequently a coalescing of material from multiple hard-to-get sources, too. (Not an easy or quick task, in anyone’s language!) And your fleetness of response time (especially to Culture-type issues) would be the envy of Fleet St. Many times I’ve noted you put out a same-day response to a ‘hot’ issue, in addition to any article(s!) you published earlier that day. As I say, amazing.

    Long may the Lord strengthen your hand.

  • Many thanks indeed David for your kind words. Your check (or is that cheque?) is in the mail!

  • A prodigous mind committed to God – and inspiring us all to make a difference for the Kingdom! Thank you Bill.

  • Hey Bill,
    I will try to keep this short 🙂 I travel on the train almost daily, and seldom see a book being read on the train, but many holding phones in front of them, with earphones blocking out any chance of conversation. I do try and keep up with your articles, and appreciate the work you put in to them. I also try to gain other readers to check out your posts.

    God bless you in all you do.

  • I appreciate your well thought out and often researched articles and they’re not long at all. I’ve lamented about this state on my blog before too. Our short attention span is worrying because it means we can’t read the word of God properly.

  • It takes me longer than 7 minutes but well worth it! As far shortening thing look at how they have shortened the Bible to three words: God is love! If you can say it in 3 words it has a huge impact on today’s dumbed down populace.

  • Articles always a blessing. May God keep you safe and enthused by the Spirit. Thank you.

  • Hi Bill. It’s true – you can’t please all of the people all of the time. 100 words?!! Really?!! Pleased be encouraged. Your articles are a daily blessing to so many people who sincerely appreciate all the research you do and the thoughtful, considered and Biblical way you present your articles is both informative and thought provoking. As one who produces a monthly 800 word Christian contribution for a monthly community newsletter, I understand and appreciate somewhat the time and effort involved. For you to publish a daily article averaging 1300 words leaves me speechless. May GOD’s favour cover you as a shield and may HE continue to inspire you empower you to continue and bless you for your courage and faithfulness in speaking out HIS truth. GOD bless, Cheryl Ciccotosto

  • Dear Hollywood your movies are too long. Please re-release them as 30 second YouTube versions. Seem silly? Isn’t that really what a request for an abridged version of a complex post is akin to?

    I confess that I skim stuff sometimes – my eyes glaze a bit if I’m tired or losing focus, but that’s my problem, not (usually) the fault of whatever I’m reading or watching.

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