When I first saw this clip on The Colbert Report, I had a good laugh.It speaks volumes about our declining attention span and our increasing failure to comprehend anything longer than 140 characters, or even, two questions within 140 characters. Try texting someone the following:
“When are you leaving town? Want to catch a movie?”
Chances are good that you receive only one answer to the two questions, probably a “yeah” or “nope” response.
Laugh all you want, I did, at least until yesterday when the healthcare reform was brought up in a conversion between me and a friend. We tried to compare it a against the healthcare system here in Singapore to understand why government insurance works here, but might not in the USA. This is when we ran into a wall. Despite heavy media coverage on the topic, we both knew very little about the specifics, about how much money each person would be covered up to, the kind of cases covered, how the payout would be done and so on. We decided we had to get our facts right, and like most people would do today, we turned to Google. Herman Cain’s speech ceased to be a laughing subject.
There was no way either one of us could pour through over 2000 pages of text, and then have a discussion on it. Hell, when I read Gone With the Wind over a span of days, I had forgotten portions which happened early into the story when I was halfway through.
How many of us have actually read through a software EULA, wading through pages of heavily padded legalese before reaching a sentence that is useful information? A new version of the software, with a modified EULA, would have been released by the time we get through it.
To promote informed discussion, which is essential to any functioning democracy, information has to be readily available and easy to understand. It has to be concise. The old lady pushing her cart to the market should be able to understand it just as the well-manicured businessman in his lavish office does. Transparency is only as useful as the information that comes out during the process. Having a wall of text isn’t transparency. It’s simply a wall.
Quoting Einstein, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” We’ve been successful at advancing the human race as a whole because we’ve made basic scientific principles easy to understand. This is what drives the search for unification between the various fields of physics in search of a “theory for everything”.
In A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking, he closed the book with the following paragraph.
If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the quest of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.
This is what we should strive for in the field of politics and legislature, so that we, as ordinary people, can partake in the process of democracy.