less is more

There’s an essential problem in the transmission/communication of ideas. The formats of communication that appear to work best— the ones that are enjoyable or entertaining (and appear to be most effective) — don’t always seem to correlate with actual understanding.

Take the adage: Less is more. There’s no better way to provide others with profundity and insight than to use pithy, aphoristic phrases. This punchy format— just like good jokes— seeds an idea with artful restraint, but allows the epiphany to blossom in the mind of the reader. The reader has to make some connections of their own, rather than having everything explicitly and didactically spelled out and spoon fed to them. This structure of exformation* is essential for a joke to land or for the light bulb to flicker on in the stuttered rush of understanding that follows a great aphorism. It’s efficacy is in its collaboration with the audience. However, this is the precise quality that makes it totally ambiguous and unclear. Clarity and understanding require precision, qualifications, litanies, pedantry, and to some extent, being pretty boring. But, of course, who wants to listen to that.

* As opposed to in-formation, exformation refers to what is left out due to a shared body of knowledge. This expression was coined by Danish writer Tor Norretranders in The User Illusion. And it’s referenced and extrapolated by David Foster Wallace in a very excellent speech on Kafka and humor.

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