Shut Up Without Shutting Up

Lessons on from Plato, Marx, and a Pocket addict.

I don’t get it.

Plato famously said, “Wise men talk when they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.”

But later, on his death bed, Karl Marx proclaimed conversely that “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”

Clearly they were both very very wise men, who were quite prolific in their lifetimes, but it still remains a mystery to me whether it is better to shut up until you have something really great to say or speak your mind when you have the chance. There seems to be a trade-off between relevancy and quality that few who voice opinions professionally have mastered.

This has become a really contentious topic for me both as a writer and someone who is chronically addicted to Pocket.

I have developed a nasty habit of Pocketing almost any article that has an intriguing title or was tweeted out by anyone with over 1,000 followers and is not Guy Kawasaki — hippo castration just isn’t gonna make the cut. My read-to-Pocket ratio is a dismal 1:20, leaving me with a mountain of unread content only a Himalayan sherpa with a jet pack could summit. What’s worse is that much of this content, I’ve noticed, is just fluff — and so too has Elon Musk apparently:

The speed and volume of news dissemination today coupled with the contradictory pressures to be relevant but informative seem to be producing a generation of long¹ but hastily-put-together pieces that are filled with obvious or redundant information and/or overly-inflammatory opinions.

In my own writing, I’ve found it nearly impossible to present a unique opinion on a topic in a timely manner and support it with good data. The thoughtful artist, lean tech entrepreneur and meticulous scientist inside of me are in an epic battle and there’s no clear winner in sight.

As a result, I’ve decided to temporarily adjourn my efforts to write longer pieces in favor of medium-length² pieces. The goal is to present interesting ideas on a diverse range of relevant topics, while still minimizing fluff.

  • Per Plato’s sentiments: If I don’t have anything good to say about something, I won’t write about it.
  • Per Marx’s sentiments: I will present as many interesting ideas as I can, justifying them enough to get the point across without getting lost in minute details.

Whether that makes me a wise man or a fool is up to you to decide. Either way, I won’t shut up.

  1. I mean, the more text there is, the more information there is. Right? So, length = informativeness?
  2. You may also call them micro-pieces, long-form tweets, or half baked diatribes. Maybe this is the size Ev Williams was talking about when he named his new blogging platform Medium.

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Technology professional, silicon valley native, Berkeley graduate, blogger, and all around great guy.