Whither brevity?

You’d think the Twitter age, when the summation of universal truths must be compressed into 140 characters, might just signal a reduction in bureaucracy and complexity.   

Seems not.  Canadian ‘think tanker’ David Brooks complains in a recent issue of the New York Times about the resurgence of a Technocracy Boom between 2000 and 2011.  He believes it was no surprise that ‘conservative’ America, in the form of the Republican party, created more than 1,200 government agencies and 1,900 private companies to work on issues related to counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence programmes at around 10,000 sites across the US. An estimated 854,000 people were given top-secret security clearance to produce an average of 50,000 reports a year.

The Obama administration pledged ‘change’ as its fundamental undertaking, but if the upsurge in complexity is any indication it would seem little has. 

The recent passage of the healthcare reforms, a platform policy, resulted in the creation of 183 new agencies, commissions, panels and other bodies.  Garnished with such branding as the Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement Program, an Interagency Pain Research Co-ordinating Committee and a Cures Acceleration Network Review Board.

Also under Obama’s watch, Democrats passed their far-reaching financial reform laws. The law that originally created the United States Federal Reserve was a mere 31 pages. The Sarbanes-Oxley banking reform act, passed in 2002, was only 66 pages. But the 2010 financial reform law was 2,319 pages.

In New Zealand, it seems, we have the same disease.  Between 2003 and 2009 total Government spending on policy advice across all ministries, departments and agencies is estimated to have jumped by more than 70 percent – from about NZ$510 million to NZ$880 million.

At a time when brevity and restraint are both desirable and do-able, why have we gone the other way? 

Is this notion of the Technocracy Boom the culprit?  Are we not so much using advances in technology, science and engineering as drowning in them?

We’re living in the ‘on demand’ generation.  Like it or not, our businesses and governments now need to deal, and form relationships, with stakeholders who prefer their information in bits and ‘byte’-sized chunks.

There will always be a need for an appropriate degree of complexity. The challenge for us as communicators is to ensure that simplicity and brevity don’t become the sole preserve of social media.  

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