13 February 2008

Pithy information

Here's a thought I've been having lately. One of the challenges of communicating dense information is simply remembering it. The human brain is only capable of digesting information in chunks. For example, a US phone number is 10 digits and that's pretty much the maximum the average person can remember. One of the challenges of giving good presentations or lectures is how to package them so that people will remember them the next day. That's why my master's thesis advisor always told his students to tell a story. Stories are the basic coin of art and incredibly effective in making information delivery potent.

One of my favorite artforms is the musical. It doesn't get any better than that. With a musical, you have a compact two hour story with important moments captured in song. An expertly written song (e.g. many Sondheim songs) conveys so much information. The lyrics are like a poem and the music enhances the emotional power of the words. I don't know quite how to describe it, but the music is like a drug that rushes into your brain and turns on your emotional centers and consequently enhances your ability to take in the words. Unlike most songs though, a song in a musical is part of a larger framework - a story made of dialogue and more songs. I suppose everyone has their preference for length: poetry, short story, or novel. Musicals are analogous to short stories and that's the length I enjoy most. (Aside: for written work, I like both short stories and novels.)

I love good songs because you can sing and perform them and because they're so dense and compact, you can carry them in your pocket. When you come across an interesting moment in your life, you can simply pull out the song and use it as a mirror to reflect on the moment. You can say the same things about poetry, but somehow I just haven't developed a taste for poetry... yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment