490 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 4 J U L Y 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE
one having a bad day had simply plucked them in a clumsy fashion from
something worth reading. For some reason, the next time we get back in the
elevator we again look up at the screen to read the words, preferring that to
the company of our fellow passengers (flicking away at their digital devices,
though temporarily neither receiving nor transmitting) or ourselves.
Our eyes drift to meaningless comments elsewhere during the day as well.
Seeking a break at work we read comments posted on the Internet or, increasingly,
news articles that seem to stitch together tweets rather than actually
report on the underlying matter being tweeted about. Once home we may
switch on TV news channels where panellists are trained to communicate in
seconds-long snippets, and they seem to angle for fame (and the chance to be
invited back) achieved by saying something, no matter if it makes any sense.
It is a little like participation marks in certain seminars where you knew a
classmate was pulling ahead in checkmarks on the instructor’s class list just
by speaking. The topics on which these comments fasten may themselves be
trivial at best.
Certain emperors of the online and broadcast worlds have no clothes yet
find praise for their fashion sense.
The problem with much of what we read and hear is not its brevity per
se but its lack of meaningful content. These are not the short sentences of
Hemingway on which various of us were told to model our first factum—
commentators are not exactly tackling the difficult snows of Kilimanjaro;
rather, they are putting words to (hot) air.
It takes neither time nor skill to put out words—whether few or many—
that are not reasoned. Packing substance—both the punch line and supporting
material—into concise sentences requires skill and time that many
neither have nor choose (despite the responsibility with which one would
think having influence is commensurate) to spend. Mark Twain famously—
at least, famously to the junior lawyers who have heard this from wise and
perhaps exasperated principals—attributed his writing of a long letter to the
fact he did not have time to write a short one.
Obviously far from all we read and hear is as vapid as suggested above.
There are some dedicated and high-quality purveyors of both news and
commentary. Indeed various of our clients (speaking to the media lawyers
among you!) are in this elevated category. However, it is undeniable that as
consumers we also tolerate other material of appallingly low quality.
We might consider applying more of the lessons we have been taught in
law to evaluating the “news” we are fed and to determining what not to select
from the menu next time. Think of what your mother told you about eating
vegetables: you should always choose broccoli over French fries. Here, then,
is the vegetable platter the Advocate recommends for its readers.