The unstoppable rise of brevity and abbreviations


Visa decided its six-word slogan was too long. Now it’s five. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

Here’s a look at five ideas that could impact the way we live, work and play.

The triumph of tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

Remember when FedEx was Federal Express? Or when AOL was American Online? There’s a huge trend toward  shortening everything. A troubling aspect of the rise of tl;dr rise is the implication for reading. Research has shown children read fewer books as they are drawn to the quicker digital alternatives such as games and apps. Our media options have exploded in the age of the Internet, meaning it’s a battle for companies to get their voices heard. It’s easier to stand out and hold attention with a short and efficient message. Even tweets are getting shorter. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

In that spirit, Visa has decided not to use six words when five will do. The company is shortening its slogan from “It’s everywhere you want to be” to “Everywhere you want to be.” From the New York Times:

IN a world where time-pressed people type “u 2” for “you too”; say “because” to introduce a noun or adjective rather than a full clause, as in “because doughnuts;” and use abbreviations like “ftw” (“for the win”), marketing and media phrases are also increasingly being compressed. For instance, commercials for Alka-Seltzer Plus keep the words “Oh, what a relief it is” from their vintage predecessors while eliminating the “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.” The sequels to “The Fast and the Furious” go by titles like “Fast & Furious 6.” And “Masterpiece Theater” on PBS is now “Masterpiece.”

The benefits of caffeine on your memory

A Johns Hopkins study found that taking caffeine improves memory consolidation, the process by which memories are made permanent. Unlike traditional studies of caffeine, the researchers administered caffeine to subjects following a memory test, not before. That way they could determine the improved memory results were not the product of the increased attentiveness and vigilance that can result from caffeine usage. The caffeine was directly impacting the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a key role in moving memories from short-term to long-term memory.

“If somebody wants to take sort of the life lesson from this, if you are a coffee drinker, it’s everything in moderation, you have to figure out what’s the right level for you. To me the right level has to be something that doesn’t have the side effects like jitteriness and anxiety,” said Michael Yassa, the senior researcher on the project, who is now a professor at the University of California-Irvine. The research will appear in Nature Neuroscience.

The Nike shoe that taps into 3-D printing

Nike’s Vapor Carbon was designed with 3-D printing, which the company says shaved years off the time needed to develop the shoe. Modifications to the cleat and sole could be tested faster than with traditional prototyping methods. Via Wired:

Cleaning money could help us save money. A new idea from Brown University professors Nabil M. Lawandy and Andrei Y. Smuk, as explained in The American Chemistry Society:

The world’s treasuries print nearly 150 billion new banknotes every year at a cost approaching $10 billion. And about 150,000 tons of old bills become destined for shredding and disposal. The main culprit for this costly turnover is human sebum, the oily, waxy substance the body produces to protect skin — also the bane of acne-prone teenagers. Over a bill’s lifetime of about three to 15 years, depending on the denomination, sebum accumulates on its surface, reacts with oxygen in the air and turns a yellowish hue. To delay a banknote’s retirement, Lawandy’s team decided to see if they could just clean it, removing the accumulated sebum.

They turned to “supercritical” CO2, which acts like both a gas and a liquid and is commonly used in other cleaning applications. When they tested it on banknotes from around the world, they found that it effectively removed oxidized sebum and motor oil while leaving intact security features such as holograms and phosphorescent inks.

The iPad is a worthy canvas for an artist. [Learn more here.]

San Francisco’s de Young Museum has an exhibit from David Hockney on display through Jan. 20. Hockney creates his work using an iPad. Do you think the iPad helps or hinders Hockney’s art? See some of his work here.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland | January 13