Selective Excerpting to Reach the Masses

Tumblr post with life advice got sent around to several people I know, via retweets and shares. Key excerpts:

This is the thing: When you hit 28 or 30, everything begins to divide. You can see very clearly two kinds of people. On one side, people who have used their 20s to learn and grow, to find … themselves and their dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults. Then there’s the other kind, who are hanging onto college, or high school even, with all their might. They’ve stayed in jobs they hate, because they’re too scared to get another one. They’ve stayed with men or women who are good but not great, because they don’t want to be lonely. … they mean to develop intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party. But they don’t do those things, so they live in an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than when they graduated. 

Don’t be like that. Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either. Stop every once in a while and go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal.

The advice is not bad — even if it succumbs to the "short. bursts. of advice. to do. something." formulation that peeves me — but I have two broader reactions.

First, "there are two types of people" is a smart, simple frame that plays on people's us vs. them instinct. It also enables subtle self-congratulation when someone shares the article online–you only share it if you are on the right side of the fence.

Second, and more interestingly, the original article from which the post excerpts actually appeared in a religious magazine called Relevant, which bills itself as about "God. Life. Progressive Culture." In fact, if you look at the original article, there are various religious references that got turned into ellipses in the excerpt.

Original:

On one side, people who have used their 20s to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults. 

Tumblr excerpt that got shared: 

On one side, people who have used their 20s to learn and grow, to find … themselves and their dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults.

Original:

Walk closely with people you love, and with people who believe God is good and life is a grand adventure.

Excerpt:

Walk closely with people you love, and with people who believe … life is a grand adventure. 

You could say the advice is just as valid with or without the God references. But it's interesting that whoever posted the excerpt decided to omit them. He must have figured he'd lose none of the religious readers by keeping the message secular (even if the connection with religious readers was made less intense), but that he stood to lose a lot of non-religious people were the God references kept. So he chose for the most universal excerpt.

It reminds me of the Insiders vs. Outsiders post I wrote the other week. When communicating to a group, you're always trying to decide whether to connect intensely with a small set of folks, or connect less intensely with a larger set.

4 Responses to Selective Excerpting to Reach the Masses

  1. DanS says:

    I always like to start from: There are ~7Billion types of people. Classification of types can be useful. There are certainly cross-cutting aspects but I find that once you have categories, any inconsistencies become epicycles, er, I mean subcategories, rather than just accepting that they may be orthogonal to the categories.

    Two categories makes life easy. Some people hate uncertainty, nuance and deep thinking. There are endless ways to avoid such pain and outsource type identity to make sure you are the “right” type.

  2. David Urmann says:

    I think the the key is that we need to move forward and learn. If a right path exists maybe its not so much for us to judge what it is. Walk the middle path.

  3. Krishna says:

    And why are we surprised…?

    Omission of the expression “God” – not just in those sentences but wherever it features, will never make a difference because, to the truly enlightened – and that starts with every deep thinking atheist- God is neither a noun nor a verb.
    There is only Godliness all around and truly no God. And Godliness is, the sum total of all that is – ether, space, time and everything in and out of it.

  4. Shefaly says:

    Somehow this reminded me of the misquote on that Martin Luther King memorial. The selective excerpting has removed any sense whatsoever from the long original quote. Link: link to washingtonpost.com

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