As someone with a number of idiosyncratic opinions, and as someone who has extensively elaborated on my opinions, I think a great deal about length. If I take 2000 words to explain why X is wrong, then: A) how can I realistically expect anyone to read it? and B) how can I realistically expect anyone to go through the same thought process themselves, and end in the same place?
Realistically, I can’t expect any individual to read any of my writing. Most people don’t, you know. I have site statistics, I have the population of the world. I know a lot of people prefer different kinds of media… videos, memes, IRL conversations, collections of one-liners… I don’t judge. Or maybe they just don’t give a shit about whatever mother of all niches I have chosen to write about today.
And independent of whether people read what I say, it’s unrealistic to expect them to follow the same path. I’ve been blogging for long time, I know that not even I come to the same conclusions each time I address the same subject. I also like to think I put some sort of work and cleverness into forming my opinions. Well, if I’m so clever, how can I judge others for being less clever? Aren’t I kind of a high bar?
We can think about the issues in two different contexts: fine-grained content like tweets, and coarse-grained content like blogs.
It’s often theorized that Twitter is a hellscape because bite-sized tweets encourage shallow thought. I don’t know about that, and shallow thoughts are not inherently more hellish than deep ones. But I’ve often thought that when you can summarize your argument in a single sentence, this creates an illusion that others can–and should!–follow you. “Go read this book to see why you’re wrong” lacks force, but “Go read this tweet” seems unreasonable to decline. Nobody gets mad about ignoring book recommendations, but many people get mad about getting blocked on twitter.
In the blogging world, it’s often believed that the longest rants are the angriest ones. That may be true, insofar as anger can motivate someone to spend a lot of time writing a lot of words. But on the other hand, if you have such a long and convoluted argument, how can you get mad that others have missed it? I think what is going on here, is that long and angry rants generally consist of many shorter arguments in parallel (many strands forming a rope, as opposed to many links forming a chain). It’s frustrating when people not only miss the point, but miss every single one of fifteen separate points that we believe might have led them in the right direction.
It’s hard to think about what people are obligated or not obligated to do. It’s easier to just think about what is right, and suggest that others follow it.
Andreas Avester says
Word limit is exactly why I don’t use Twitter. I couldn’t care less what some person thinks unless they are also willing to give arguments that support their positions. And I don’t think it is possible to explain an argument in a couple of words, never mind giving evidence that supports your assertions.
Hj Hornbeck says
Ah, but length is about more than just building an argument. As a computer scientist, I can toss off a statement like “radix sort is faster than the fastest comparison sorts for large n” and expect people to take me at my word. But if I instead start talking about, say, the history of feminism, people will default to being skeptical about what I say. As they should! So I have to compensate by being a lot more explicit about my arguments and adding in citations. The result is a longer post than I’d otherwise type.
Another reason for long posts is to build a record. My second post on the Rachel Oates affair was a ridiculous 13,000 words long. I was taking a bird’s eye view of the entire situation, consolidating seven month’s worth of social media posts into a single timeline; had I sliced it up into several shorter posts, themes which popped up earlier would be much tougher to spot. I wanted to be as objective as possible, so the vast majority of those words are long quotes from other people rearranged so that earlier ones gave context to later ones. The net result is that you can get a solid understanding of what several people were thinking and doing at a specific moment in time. Are most people going to read through the entire thing? I doubt it, but for the few who are willing that post is a valuable resource.
Pierce R. Butler says
… how can I realistically expect anyone to read it?
By use of blog-hosting software that keeps track of traffic? If some people have read that already, more will, probably.
“Nobody gets mad about ignoring book recommendations, but many people get mad about getting blocked on twitter.”
Lol, I think there’s another reason to that besides just disparities of length.
Passionate is a better word than angry. To paraphrase the movie ‘Monsters’,
“We swear because we care.”