Compression Compulsion And The Death Of The Long, Slow Read

A mass of compressed plastic bottles on a pallet, symbolizing the fact that compressing isn't exactly saving the world

Written by Lyssa Menard

March 22, 2022

Once upon a time, a group of professional and amateur chefs took a stand for ‘slow cooking.’ The slow cooking movement was born of a belief that cooking is an art and a cultural treasure that should be conducted slowly and carefully, in the context of love and community. For its proponents, real food consisted only of whole, fresh, natural ingredients, and original creations were preferred. 

I was a destitute grad student when I stumbled into this movement, but it spoke to me. Weekly, I’d cook up a vat of marinara or a thin bolognese from scratch (using meat sparingly from the ‘starving student’ playbook) and toss it on discount-store spaghetti. (The pasta was by no means made from scratch). Knocking door-to-door, I’d gather in neighbors I barely knew, and serve up my creation on cushions splayed across my teeny-tiny studio apartment’s floors. 

The racket of conversation is the thing I remember most. 

The invitations were never reciprocated. Yet I’ve never had a single regret. Slow food led to community, connection, and a fun bit of chaos.

As far as I know, the slow cooking movement has gone by the wayside, knocked asunder by busyness, rushiness, and compulsion to do-do-do. 

The same thing seems to be happening with reading, and writers have taken the hint. 

Yesterday, I spent hours in writing classes led by mentors I adore and respect, from the writing course I continually laud (Write of Passage – and, yes, I’m writing about it again!). I was repeatedly accosted with the same refrain: long and luxurious writing is bad and unreadable. Success in the online writing world can only come with the expression of brief ideas, compressed into bite-sized tidbits for the modern man’s mind to consume and regurgitate with ease.

I felt depressed. Compressed. It occurred to me that this is exactly how depression feels. 

I have the luxury of saying that after a lifetime of depression and PTSD, I am finally coming out the other side. I feel energized and expansive. The world is my oyster. I see everything – all the beauty, the broadness, the depth, and the breadth. And it’s my choice to share all of that glory with anyone else who’s interested. 

This idea of compressed writing makes me feel small. And reading compressed writing makes me wonder how much bigger those writers could be. 

I’m told that no one will read what I write. I’m told that no one will want what I write. I’m told that when I write long-form I’m demanding my reader’s attention rather than giving them the gifts I intend. 

The condensers are propped up like the heroes of our time. 

One example, Derek Sivers, comes up repeatedly in conversation. Now, I enjoy Derek Sivers’ prose. And in fact, I enjoy him even more as a human being. I’d spend any day of the week having a conversation with him. But Derek Sivers – by his own admission – condenses his writing, in part, by neglecting to credit the writers whose ideas have contributed to his essays. So, if he’s quoting someone else, he changes the words somewhat and presents the material without referencing the originator. 

This is an absolute travesty. Sure, his work is punchy. But it’s not his work. He is sacrificing respect for the shoulders he stands on by extracting them from his tight little pieces.  

Not so with me. I’m giving credit where credit’s due because that’s part of long, slow writing. It’s the understanding that every new idea stands on the shoulders of those who came before. I don’t intend to sacrifice my integrity to the gods of compression.

All I can say at this point is: fuck compression contagion. You be you. I’ll be me. 

Perhaps no one will read my work. Perhaps it’s too long to succeed. Perhaps this expansive, exuberant me will have trouble finding readers in this summarized, succinct world. 

So be it. I’ll be here, slowly cooking this piece… and the next… and the next. 

Dear Reader, I hope you find me and enjoy this expansive, long slow read.

~~~~~

Note: If you want to know more about the wrong turn writers have taken and how you can veer off in your own direction, read this next: Ditch the Niche: Turn Down the Pressure to Niche In your Career, Your Writing, and Your Life

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