What Good is Simplicity?

August 22, 2008

I collect copies of The Little Prince in different languages. It’s my favorite book, so that makes sense, and it’s also an excellent way to get a little bit of familiarity with foreign languages.

At a couchsurfing party I attended in Spain, I was talking to a woman who criticized The Little Prince on the grounds that it is too simplistic. People who don’t read, she said, are easy to identify on the basis that they like The Little Prince and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. An interesting point, and perhaps empirically true, though I didn’t find it to be a particularly ingratiating way to converse with someone you’ve just met.

But to the claim that The Little Prince is too simplistic to be of genuine interest to an intelligent person, let’s do a a simple thought experiment. You are an intelligent person. Imagine you had to give a speech in front of the Senate advocating for more funding for public television. What would you say? What points would you want to make?

Come on, pause for a few seconds and think about it.

Now, I implore you to check out this clip of Fred (“Mr.”) Rogers speaking before the Senate in 1969. Was his presentation simpler or more complicated than the one you would have adopted? Do you think his speech was more effective or less effective than yours would have been?

It takes a unique person to truly understand the power of simplicity. Mr. Rogers was also one courageous guy. I’m certain that I would not be able to do what he did in this video.


One Response to “What Good is Simplicity?”

  1. […] Mister Rogers video again (skip to 5:08 if the speech is too intense for you, and it should be). Here’s what I wrote about it […]

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