Life runs at a fast pace these days. Everything has to be done by yesterday. We want information NOW and ASAP to meet our demands. Stress runs rampant up and down our spines and nervous systems.
I recently thought this over and wondered when we got into the hurry business of abbreviating our information and, most specifically, why? I did come up with some answers as to when but I’m still not all that clear about the why part. I do know life is in a hurry these days and it’s all electricity’s fault. We haven’t had a quiet day since we harnessed electrical power. Life simply hasn’t been the same.
Therefore, I figure I can lay this rush and stress situation at the feet of the following people: Benjamin Franklin, Heinrich Hertz, Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Enrico Marconi. Since their time, life as we know it is on the fast track. Think of the ease of pace in the word before these guys came on the scene.
Benjamin Franklin, (1706-1790) and his kite experiment with a key demonstrated that lightening is electricity. He even classified this unharnessed thing “electricity” into positive and negative. He then went into the printing business and made a fortune. Life remained at its normal, slow pace for another 150 years. Then all of a sudden the world got a “shock” from which we have not recovered. Look what these guys did to upset our apple cart of tranquility.
Thomas Edison, (1847-1931) the most well known inventor of all time with 1093 patents to his name, showed us what we could do with electricity. He invented the movie business, the music business and the light bulb. (Edison received only three months of formal schooling during the whole of his life. He was dismissed from school as being retarded. The fact was a childhood attack of scarlet fever had left him partially deaf.)
Heinrich Hertz, (1847-1894) a German physicist, laid the ground work for the vacuum tube, which is how we came to have radio, telephone, telegraph and television. He was one of the first people to demonstrate the existence of electric waves. Hertz was convinced that there were electromagnetic waves in space. Most people, since they couldn’t see them, thought he was nuts.
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) born in Scotland, was raised in a family that was interested and involved in the science of sound. Bell’s father and grandfather both taught speech to the deaf. A unit of sound level is called a bel in his honor. Sound levels are measured in tenths of a bel, or decibels. His believing in Hertz resulted in the invention of the telephone.
Enrico Marconi, (1874-1937) (Featured Photograph), an Italian electrical engineer believed so much in Mr. Hertz that he ended up inventing the radio and wireless telegraph and you see what that caused—everything from soap opera to advertising commercials and even instant messaging or texting as one might say these days.
Over the years, everyone got caught up into something one of these guys did. As my niece Beth said recently to me, “I believe you must be one of the only people on earth without a smart phone.” She might be right. People now text and use these objects every waking hour. We now find ourselves addicted to instant information. How many people do you see working their smart phones any place you go? Oh, just about 100%.
Show business now consumes us worldwide. The Oscar ceremony every year causes the world to stop for three hours. A selfie can be taken by the hostess that is instantly seen all over the universe. I imagine the Cannes Film Festival is nothing but a fiesta of phone calls and text messaging. We can now deposit checks via our smart phones. We can contact anybody anywhere, send photos and live in close communication with one another nearly 24 hours a day. We can even talk to Seri and ask where the closest pizza parlor is.
In our job life, when being interviewed, one of the first questions we are asked is “Tell me a little about yourself.” Notice the operative word here is “little”—in other words, make it brief. People have not had the patience to listen to people for a long time. Make it short is the codeword of any communication these days.
Most people dread that awful question about boiling down their entire lives from 50 to 75 words. But we have to be able to do it these days. People are in a hurry. They want their info now because they all have short fuses.
So what do you do if that dreaded question comes? “Tell me a little about yourself.” What you have to do instead of panic, choke, faint or stutter is to give your life story to them machine gun delivery style with the sweetest smile you can muster up.
The trick is to write your spiel out ahead of time, memorize it and then let it go at the designated moment. But how, you are saying? Okay 50-75 words doesn’t give you much time to cover your life. To make it have legs to stand on, quickly give two sentences about the past, two about the present and one about the future. Then you await their next question, whatever it may be, with a smile.
Here is my oral telegram to you.” Tell me a little about yourself, Jack”.
I pull the trigger of my oral machine gun and say, “ I was born in the state of Alabama, attended Mississippi State University where I got a BA. I received my master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College in Vermont. I taught school for several years in places as varied as Riverside, California, Havana Cuba and Paris, France. Presently I live in Palm Springs where I’m a writer of novels. I have a new book coming out this fall called MURDER IMPOSSIBLE.” (72 words.)
See that wasn’t hard. The fact is though you’re having to jump through a stressful hoop due to those guys I mentioned earlier in this blog. Can you imagine George Washington asking you such a question? If he had, you’d probably have eaten a copious, leisurely lunch while covering your life story. But, ah, that was then and this is now.
Also if you’re in the writing business, you have to pitch your ideas to people. They use to let you have 15 or even 30 minutes. Not now. These days such activities are highly abbreviated. They’ve even been given a special name. We call them “loglines” and they can be no longer than 35 to 50 words. To put it another way, you’ve got a minute. They are also called “elevator pitches.” This is in case you catch an important producer, director, publisher or agent in the elevator, in line at MacDonald’s or in some bathroom, you can take advantage of the opportunity and pitch them your masterpiece.
When you read about what movie or TV show is on tonight, you generally read a log line. Leonard Matlin has a yearly movie guide that contains 16,000 log lines.
Loglines or Elevator Pitches must tell what your project is in the least number of words possible. This is guaranteed to make you break out in a sweat. But every writer I know lives a stressful life. Perhaps in the old days a producer or publisher might invite you to lunch and you have a really nice talk. Perhaps Charles Dickens did that about his next novel. Not nowadays thought. You must be finished with your pitch by the time the important person has zipped up at the urinal or gets off the elevator.
Abbreviated living is what it’s all about these days. We don’t have time to read a whole article about what’s on TV tonight. We can tell if we want to watch a movie or TV show by reading or hearing its logline in 35 words or less. We specifically want to know WHO, WHERE and WHAT.
Just so you know that I too have to do this, I’ll give you the logline to my latest book out next month. This is what the publisher first wanted to know about this project. Here it is.
MURDER IMPOSSIBLE is a compelling mystery novel in which a deaf and blind young man is accused of a horrifying murder on board a cruise ship. As much of a howdunit as a whodunit. (34 words)
I hope this blog has helped you understand the abbreviated life better. You should now successfully be able to impart information about yourself and your project in a minute. Give both of them a try. Good writing to you.
NOTE: The results of the “BEGINNINGS” CONTEST were due to appear in today’s blog. However, the judge is out of town in Washington D. C. and will not be able to review the entries and declare a winner as planned. However, she will have her judgment ready for the November 13, 2014, blog. The good part is that you still have time to send in another entry. Just go to the October 30th blog BEGINNINGS and add your new inspiration under the COMMENT heading. Thanks for your patience.