“Can you tell your life story in six words?”
This question was first posed in 2006 by Smith Magazine, and the concept of the “six word memoir” has since exploded in popularity. From high school teachers using the concept to inject some fun into assignments to several books devoted to the concept now published, the idea has resonated with many people.
The six word memoir has taken off for a good reason. Encapsulating a complex idea in 6 words can be a fun challenge. And, as a reader, if you had a choice to read a six page paper or six words on a typical day, which would you choose?
It’s easy to guess which, and it’s probably not because you’re just lazy. For all the positive things social media has given us, it has also reduced the attention spans of many pretty significantly. Many of us now prefer to consume our information in tweets of 140 characters or less rather than through reading long articles or watching lengthy news packages. We often know details about a current event before the media even has time to report it has happened, because it’s already spread like wildfire on Facebook. (Whether or not the details are accurate is often another story.)
Adding to our short attention spans is the fact that everyone is just so darn busy these days. Tim Kreider’s viral New York Times article The ‘Busy’ Trap – one I was initially too busy to read and flagged for months before getting to – sums up this phenomenon well. “Almost everyone I know is busy,” he laments. “They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”
So it’s only natural that there is a demand for the higher education platforms we use to well, get to the point. Give us short digestible bursts of information, apply theory to real-life scenarios, and above all else, keep us compelled! Working adults who have just spent 8+ hours (not including their commute), many of whom arrive home to the rigorous demands of family life, barely have time to make dinner, let alone read and process lengthy chapters and compose long discussions and papers for their online courses.
So is it time for professors to adjust their requirements when it comes to assignment lengths? Well, a cardinal rule of copywriting is to say more with less, and this rule also applies to many other professions today because of the way we now work and think. If we could learn to do so starting in school, rather than being forced to do the opposite by having to say something in ten pages that could have been more effectively expressed in one, would that help us express ourselves more efficiently in life? Or do you think lengthy assignments are still necessary to cultivate richer and deeper discussions?
I leave you with my own six words:
Congratulations. You got to the end.