If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as a technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well. They both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.
This is a photograph of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, taken 150 years ago today.
I love this picture. I love it because Lincoln looks so anonymous in it. He’s just another person in the crowd. Certainly, when he gave the Gettysburg Address, he wasn’t just another person in the crowd. He was set apart. He stood on a podium and everyone gathered to hear him speak. But the point remains: he was just a person. What made him remarkable was that he understood the power of language.
He understood that words can change people’s minds, and that they could therefore change a country. With just 271 words, he reminded his audience of why America was so remarkable, why it was worth fighting for, and that the best way to honor the dead was to get to work creating a government worthy of their sacrifice.
There’s some irony that Lincoln believed that the world would forget his speech:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It’s true that no words, not even his, could adequately honor the dead. But he misunderstood that his words would be immortal. His words are precisely what remind us of those soldiers and what they were fighting for. I hope we never forget them.
The Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
I do think this is one of the blessings and curses of social media: To fit in, you have to sound like a person, not an institution. And people can be so much more annoying than institutions. And also so much more interesting. I think that’s the trade-off.
And more honest insights on making “important civic issues” go viral, via Upworthy Co-Founder Eli Pariser Explains What Upworthy’s Doing And Why It Annoys Me So Much - On The Media
Newspapers are really mostly terrible and they deserve to die. And network news is really terrible and it deserves to go down. […] The tone seems horrible. They’re like news robots talking to other news robots in their specialized news language and that is what we must destroy.
Ira Glass, discussing why voice and tone is so essential to This American Life and why traditional media organizations are failing because they refuse to talk like normal people. Watch his entire (wonderful) rant on YouTube.
David Ogilvy sent these writing tips to the employees of his advertising agency in 1982. His goal was to improve communication between people working within the agency, but his advice applies to any professional communicator.
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
- Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing[, Writing that Works]. Read it three times.
- Write the way you talk. Naturally.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
- Never write more than two pages on any subject.
- Check your quotations.
- Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
- If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
- Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
- If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
Taken from The Unpublished David Ogilvy.
We made these graphs for Nextgov to show how the shutdown is impacting different agencies’ ability to communicate. They show the number of Tweets sent by agencies during a normal (that is, fully funded) week compared to Tweets sent during the week when the shutdown began.
Most agencies look more or less like the EPA – the lights went out as soon as the shutdown went into effect. Meanwhile, the VA is one of a few agencies that is fully funded on a two-year cycle, so it hasn’t been impacted. In fact, the spike you see in Tweets from the VA on October 1st is the result of many frenzied reminders that VA services will not be impacted by the shutdown.
NOAA is also mostly funded and was extraordinarily busy during the week of the shutdown because of tropical storm Karen.
The State Department, on the other hand, is mostly funded, but slowly grinding down. It’s been very interesting to be working with the embassy here in Costa Rica this week. I had lunch with the manager of the embassy’s Facebook Page yesterday and he told me that they had stopped updating their Facebook Page last week. What’s most interesting is that Costa Rican law prohibits the State Department from furloughing the many Costa Ricans who work at the embassy, firing them, or asking them to work without pay. Nonetheless, there’s no budget to pay them. It’s a complete impasse that’s slowing work but not quite stopping it. Let’s hope this ends soon.