Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Wall of Text

The "Wall of Text" was invented with the internet.

It is a term used to describe any thought requiring more than 200 words.

Thoughts requiring more than 200 words have a proven existence going back to Herodotus.

People who had never bothered to read started doing so because of the internet.

People also started to write because of the internet.

Dumb people on the internet began writing non-thoughts with more than 200 words.

Internet readers soon described anything more than 200 words as a "non-thought."

Other readers have long been wise enough to read something before making up their minds.

There are about 28 words contained in 140 characters.

For some, it is difficult to grasp a thought of more than 140 characters.

For some, if a thought has more than 140 characters, it shouldn't exist.

When a very, very stupid person encounters more than 140 characters, they call it a "Wall of Text."

D&D cannot be meaningfully understood in statements of less than 140 characters.

Stupidity, however, can be expressed brilliantly in 140 characters.

When someone describes writing as a "Wall of Text," I know they're an idiot.


Carl said...

Bravo, sir!

Butch said...


Butch said...

Kidding! Kidding of course.

Recently at work, people were discussing how we should be thinking about condensing our press releases and announcements so they can fit on Twitter.

140 characters!

I can't clear my throat in 140 characters.

I'm told that Twitter is the future. That is a sad statement indeed.

Nick Wright said...

Or they're saying "Format your writing." If you've never seen a massive, one-paragraph wall of text, I honestly envy you- it's a ghastly, frightening sight to behold.

Alexis said...

Nick, the "wall of text" is not a condemnation of bad writing. If it were, we would be using terms like, "fix your writing."

The term was invented because people too stupid to read a single paragraph containing so many words bellyached and cried because "It was just too high!"

Thus the term, wall. They're too freaking stupid to get past it.

Regards works written with MASSIVE paragraphs - have you ever read Herodotus? Thucydides? Erasmus? ANYBODY who has something important to say.

Your statement proves you obviously haven't. Go educate yourself.

John Bell said...

Yes, generally the wall of text effect is created because most of these little post boxes are unfriendly to the traditional formatting tools we use to break up and organise writing.

Alexis said...

The "wall of text" is not an effect. It is a reaction.

A lot of words in one paragraph is not a sin.

Charles Dickens, 319 words:

"In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow- tradesman whom he stopped in his character of "the Captain," gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mall was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, "in consequence of the failure of his ammunition:" after which the mall was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence."

Alexis said...

Thucydides, 354 words:

"But at last a time came when the tyrants of Athens and the far older tyrannies of the rest of Hellas were, with the exception of those in Sicily, once and for all put down by Lacedaemon; for this city, though after the settlement of the Dorians, its present inhabitants, it suffered from factions for an unparalleled length of time, still at a very early period obtained good laws, and enjoyed a freedom from tyrants which was unbroken; it has possessed the same form of government for more than four hundred years, reckoning to the end of the late war, and has thus been in a position to arrange the affairs of the other states. Not many years after the deposition of the tyrants, the battle of Marathon was fought between the Medes and the Athenians. Ten years afterwards, the barbarian returned with the armada for the subjugation of Hellas. In the face of this great danger, the command of the confederate Hellenes was assumed by the Lacedaemonians in virtue of their superior power; and the Athenians, having made up their minds to abandon their city, broke up their homes, threw themselves into their ships, and became a naval people. This coalition, after repulsing the barbarian, soon afterwards split into two sections, which included the Hellenes who had revolted from the King, as well as those who had aided him in the war. At the end of the one stood Athens, at the head of the other Lacedaemon, one the first naval, the other the first military power in Hellas. For a short time the league held together, till the Lacedaemonians and Athenians quarrelled and made war upon each other with their allies, a duel into which all the Hellenes sooner or later were drawn, though some might at first remain neutral. So that the whole period from the Median war to this, with some peaceful intervals, was spent by each power in war, either with its rival, or with its own revolted allies, and consequently afforded them constant practice in military matters, and that experience which is learnt in the school of danger."

Alexis said...

Tolstoy, 585 words:

"Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society--owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity--to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. If there was a reason for his preferring liberal to conservative views, which were held also by many of his circle, it arose not from his considering liberalism more rational, but from its being in closer accordance with his manner of life. The liberal party said that in Russia everything is wrong, and certainly Stepan Arkadyevitch had many debts and was decidedly short of money. The liberal party said that marriage is an institution quite out of date, and that it needs reconstruction; and family life certainly afforded Stepan Arkadyevitch little gratification, and forced him into lying and hypocrisy, which was so repulsive to his nature. The liberal party said, or rather allowed it to be understood, that religion is only a curb to keep in check the barbarous classes of the people; and Stepan Arkadyevitch could not get through even a short service without his legs aching from standing up, and could never make out what was the object of all the terrible and high-flown language about another world when life might be so very amusing in this world. And with all this, Stepan Arkadyevitch, who liked a joke, was fond of puzzling a plain man by saying that if he prided himself on his origin, he ought not to stop at Rurik and disown the first founder of his family--the monkey. And so Liberalism had become a habit of Stepan Arkadyevitch's, and he liked his newspaper, as he did his cigar after dinner, for the slight fog it diffused in his brain. He read the leading article, in which it was maintained that it was quite senseless in our day to raise an outcry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up all conservative elements, and that the government ought to take measures to crush the revolutionary hydra; that, on the contrary, "in our opinion the danger lies not in that fantastic revolutionary hydra, but in the obstinacy of traditionalism clogging progress," etc., etc. He read another article, too, a financial one, which alluded to Bentham and Mill, and dropped some innuendoes reflecting on the ministry. With his characteristic quickwittedness he caught the drift of each innuendo, divined whence it came, at whom and on what ground it was aimed, and that afforded him, as it always did, a certain satisfaction. But today that satisfaction was embittered by Matrona Philimonovna's advice and the unsatisfactory state of the household. He read, too, that Count Beist was rumored to have left for Wiesbaden, and that one need have no more gray hair, and of the sale of a light carriage, and of a young person seeking a situation; but these items of information did not give him, as usual, a quiet, ironical gratification. Having finished the paper, a second cup of coffee and a roll and butter, he got up, shaking the crumbs of the roll off his waistcoat; and, squaring his broad chest, he smiled joyously: not because there was anything particularly agreeable in his mind--the joyous smile was evoked by a good digestion."

Johnny said...

If TV didn't cause the end to civilization then I don't think Twitter will either. Too many people still like to read books, even books printed on paper. Some people might want their relationships reduced to a series of 140 word notes. I don't.

Alexis said...

Fact is, people who can't read a lot of text haven't got an excuse in this world other than that they are not well-read, uneducated, ignorant, unexceptional, unimportant little drones whose concept of this world does not include the literature that built this world for their comfort.

John Bell said...

I've read both Tolstoy and Thucydides before, and the narrow line length of the blog does them no favours (nor do italics). It's extremely easy for the natural movements of the eyes to push them off their spot in the text due to the lack of positional markers. This is exacerbated by the fact that the eye is looking directly at a light source (the screen).

I have worked in direct marketing writing and formatting paper letters and electronic media for audiences of various levels of literacy. Presentation is an extremely important element regardless of the literacy of the people involved.

In an electronic medium, as I said above, the absence of traditional indentation combined with the narrow column width and the intensity of the light coming off the screen combine to make reading more difficult than on a physical book. This tires the eye and makes it harder to follow a sustained sequence regardless of one's intellectual capacity.

One thing that authors writing specifically for electronic media can use is white space to give the audience obvious visual cues. This helps them on a subconscious level to track where they are in the document as the eye saccades.

Another is to avoid white backgrounds, which cause the screen to emit far more light than a dark or off-white background does. My own blog is designed along very similar lines to the standard imposed by the Readability App - a light grey background with black text.

I chose this specifically because I write large chunks of text and want the audience to read them in their entirety without tiring. I also widened the margins as much as I could to increase line length without it stretching off the screen on my netbook.

I would suggest using some of these techniques, and others you can find widely disseminated on the internet, if you are finding that people are having trouble following your writing.

Oddbit said...

I believe the real problem at the core of everything is; do those that will only take the time to understand small fractions of a complete idea or story migrate to those services, or do those services, in addition to accepting that population, cause others who wish to join that population to start only being able to think in small fractions of a complete idea. Are those who migrate to services such as Twitter devolving to their level? Are those that take the time to understand the large walls of text and using that service simply using it as a tool for an appropriate purpose, or are they devolving their purpose to fit the tool? Furthermore, does this (d)evolve the culture into one of bite size concepts?

Alexis said...

John Bell,

Upon such poppycock is built many a society killing service industrial sector.

At work I must accept nonsense such as "sunsetting" departments rather than "firing everyone," and having orders redefined as "the ask" ... precisely designed phrases by marketing departments to soothe the weak sensibilities of managers who have to carry out such operations.

I have no trouble whatsoever reading italics, or directly off the computer. I've no doubt, however, that someone pays you large sums of money for such useful and valuable advice.

Alexis said...

I have to say it.

All that fucking crap that John just spewed out above is exactly the kind of justification that is made to have companies all over the world move this pile of dirt three feet to the left.

Oddbit said...

I personally don't dismiss John Bell's strategies as ineffectual at avoiding eye strain. However, I must say that in any reasonable setting, (Let us presume black on white background with a standard type as reasonable enough) if the subject simply refuses to read the content due to it's wall-like appearance, that is entirely the reader's fault. If a wall of text is spaced, uses larger font, and is placed on a pleasing background, the same reader will likely dismiss it still, as now appears to be an entire manuscript rather than the original content. Furthermore, this would not even be a topic of conversation if it were not said that something is a 'wall of text,' which means that this is not only a topic on the aesthetics of the writing, but the disrespect towards the writer's opinion that is implied when the 'reader' responds that they dismiss the conveyed ideas of the text merely for it's presentation.

Alexis said...

I should be as kind as you, Oddbit.

On that point, let me add that brilliant scholars right up to the time of Voltaire managed somehow to make do with poor paper, bleeding ink, crude writing instruments and candlelight ... and yet still read voraciously whatever scraps they could get their hands upon. Cicero, Pliny, Strabo, Aristotle, Ptolemy and so on wrote in a time period where paragraphs did not exist, and every cubic on the page was used because paper was expensive. Chinese is STILL presented as a solid block of text, yet somehow the Chinese eye does not wander and the country does not fill newpapers with whitespace.

I really should be nicer ... but given the facts, its pretty nigh impossible.

Doug Wall said...

I think the "wall of text" phenomenon is as much an issue of the quality of the writing as much as the formatting. The text-based nature of the internet means that people who have no talent or skill at prose are forced to produce reams and reams of it.

Give me a well-written 10,000 words and I will read it to death. Give me some idiot's ranty forum post and I will dismiss it as a "wall of text."

Alexis said...

I am confused, Doug, as to why a special phrase has to be invented or used to describe a "ranty forum post."

Doesn't "ranty forum post" make the problem clear? Why the need to dismiss it as a different collection of three words?

The answer is actually quite plain ... but I'll let you figure out what I'm getting at.

Logiwonk said...

In science we use the term "Wall of Text" to describe when someone puts together a powerpoint presentation with slides jammed full of tons of words - this is a problem because people end up reading the slide instead of listening to the presenter. Our rule of thumb is that you shouldn't put more than 7 lines of text on a PP slide if you can help it.

Alexis said...

Since when is a powerpoint presentation "science"?

Sounds like something that is used to describe MARKETING, not "science." Science, I'm pretty sure, isn't subject to intangibles like the importance of listening to the presenter instead of reading the slide.

Andre S said...

I know I know I keep posting on columns from two years ago :( but.. I find myself echoing Carl's response from two years ago ... THANK YOU, seriously ! :)

I'm infamous for my walls of text ... I can take a certain amount of gentle ribbing about it but I've been on some websites where others seem to be ... well, hostile about it for lack of a better word :P ... I've had people online literally chew me out for typing something "too long", seen passive aggressive comments where someone goes on at length about how their eyes are bleeding and they have to use a towel to mop up the gore...

Sure, if a paragraph is really long I might find myself skimming it rather than reading every word.... or not, if it's super interesting I'll attentively focus on each word of course :) ... But I won't engage in what amounts to a public attack on someone who writes a lengthy post I'm not that interested in either... skip it and go on your way sure but why put in that extra effort just to criticize someone who obviously feels strongly enough about the topic in question to engage in a lengthy dialogue about it.