Too Long? Don’t Read.

If Edpool were an actual superhero, his archnemesis would have tl;dr on his spandex.

the_stupid (2)

For those of you who don’t know what “tl;dr” means, it means “too long; didn’t read” and it usually prefaces a glib, small-words summary of a longer piece somebody has written about something they consider important. And I’m sorry – I’m so, so sorry – that you now know what “tl;dr” is.

“tl;dr” is pretty much the enemy of everything I stand for. It’s a symbol of all the wilful – nay, glorified – ignorance and stupidity-worship that plagues the world. It’s a rallying cry for the laziness, dumbing-down and pandering to the short of attention-span that we’re not only guilty of personally, but that we’re guilty of enabling by permitting this acronym to become a thing.

The instant someone writes more than about three lines of text in a public forum, that person now seems to be obliged to give a “tl;dr” version for the thick, bored, mentally-deficient ones who were distracted about two sentences in by something shiny in the bottle of paste they were eating. These are people at whom no self-respecting commentator or philosopher would ever bother to aim his or her thoughts or words in the first place.

When did we start caring enough about people who couldn’t follow a coherent thought from one end of a page to the other, that we decided they needed a fucking Cliff Notes version of everything? Can nobody else see that if we continue this way, the non-“tl;dr” version will soon be relegated to a link behind the “tl;dr” version for those sad “readers” who want to know more than the Fox-news-headline snippets in which form we will soon be absorbing all our information? And the non-“tl;dr” version will then vanish completely, leaving us with Orwell’s duckspeak?

If you need a “tl;dr” version, you’re not the person I wanted to read this. Go away and try to do something useful.

Oh, and it’s usually uncapitalised which is wrong for an acronym, it acronymises a contraction which is beyond dubious, and it has a semi-colon in it.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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10 Responses to Too Long? Don’t Read.

  1. Aaron says:

    Ahh, Kurt Vonnegut despised semi-colons as well, so you’re in good company. Personally I’ve never found them very useful either. Just write a new sentence.

    I think tl;dr is a natural extension of the information dump and everything-instantly-at-your-fingertips of this internet and smartphone age. Text messages and so on. THEY almost see virtue in brevity and scorn concepts that can’t be relayed briefly. Hence the quip of tl;dr.

    Very sad. The world is complicated. Everything is complicated. It’s the desire to simplify everything that makes, for one example, American politics so fucked up.

    • stchucky says:

      All true. Heck, I’ll even allow as there’s situations in which a bit of a “well, long story short…” summary is called for – certainly in my writing. But the tl;dr concept crosses a line for me.

      And yeah, in my tenure as a technical writer and language validator, I see the semi-colons getting misused in the most shameful ways. Extinction would be a blessing for the poor things.

  2. dreameling says:

    I dislike what “tl;dr” represents (= no commitment to digging into things), but I can sort of see it as a “natural” evolution of coping with too much information. Yes, most things are complicated, but we (of the Internet nation) now have almost instant access to more information about more complicated things than anyone has ever had in the history of the human race. We’re bombarded with that information. So, you need to filter, and you filter either by picking and choosing what to access in depth or by compressing and skimming everything (which you might actually need to do anyway before being able to pick and choose).

    I seem to recall ranting about this same thing in a work email about dumbed-down documentation, so I’m with you, but at the same time I cannot really blame people for going for the tl;dr version.

    Now, if someone replies to a long piece of text with “tl;dr” and then proceeds to write something anyway, that’s total dick behavior.

    • dreameling says:

      Subject-verb disagreement on the blog of a professional language validator with militant QA tendencies. I will never live this down.

    • stchucky says:

      Agreed for the most part. The contexts in which I see “tl;dr”, with almost 100% consistency, fall into the “dick behaviour” category.

      • dreameling says:

        I actually see “tl;dr” mostly as a prefix to summary paragraphs. But I usually just skip it and go for the full text.

        And your kindness is appreciated (especially as it manifests in you fixing my errors). I might even take the pity.

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