Take. A. Breath.


His name is Hank Green, and he's brilliant. He's a musician, entrepreneur, and vlogger (video logger) on many matters of importance. He creates short videos that run on YouTube and lay out well-reasoned arguments about such topics as the health care crisis, global warming, and human sexuality. I find him engaging, entertaining, informative, and unbearable.

Yes, I said unbearable. I can't stand to watch his videos. The reason? He's edited out every single pause, every throat-clearing, every breath. Watching him for a few minutes, I find myself gasping, and not because of the startling things he says (though, as I said, I'm very impressed by his logic). It's the inhuman rapidity of what he's doing, the sense that he's got so much to say, and so little time to say it, that breathing is expendable.

This is problematic. Humans breathe. That quality has shaped the way we communicate both information and feelings. Punctuation, sentence structure, grammar, language is shaped by our need to pause for air. When musicians don't breathe regularly, their playing becomes rushed, even if they're not playing a wind instrument: pianists and mallet percussionists become urgent when they don't allow themselves to breathe with musical phrases, and the music sounds mechanical to listeners if there are no discernible pauses.

Oratory, as well, is highly influenced by breathing patterns. The dramatic pause is a staple of rhetoric. So is the passionate flood of words that culminates with the speaker pausing for breath while the audience processes what has just been said. Story tellers know how to stretch out the tension by increasing their breathing rate. Think of Garrison Keillor's sometimes labored breathing as he delivers the news from Lake Wobegon, or Bill Cosby's stretching sentences to paragraph length.

Not Hank Green. He delivers more words in three minutes than an auctioneer--and as I said, he does it by simply editing out the breaths.

Maybe I'm being old-fashioned here. Younger people have become used to artificially distorted voices through the heavy use of auto-tuning in hip hop, and to watching short features that honor the ethic of TLDR (Too Long Didn't Read). Their attention spans seem incapable of accommodating a Keillor or Cosby, anymore than they can stand to read an entire long form piece. And yet blockbuster movies continue to last for more than two hours--though now with the same kind of rapid-fire editing Hank Green employs in his informational videos. Which may explain why many tentpole movies leave me exhausted. Two hours without a breath is a recipe for brain death.

Apart from popular culture, breathing is far more than an essential life process. It's an underrated pleasure. Laid up by a broken toe, I'm currently frustrated by my inability to get on my bicycle or to put on my running shoes and do some rapid heavy breathing in this beautiful autumn weather. The smell of autumn leaves, the crispness of the cooling air, the occasional tang of yard debris being burned--it's my favorite time of year to exercise outdoors, in large part because of how delicious it is to breathe this air. It's been awhile since I took a yoga class (again, the wounded foot is holding me back), but the final stage of the class, lying in corpse pose and breathing deeply, is what makes all those awkward postures worthwhile.

I'd really like to see what one of Hank Green's videos is like before he starts deleting breaths. I think I'd find it much more pleasant to watch. And as for the rest of you: take some deep breaths. Get outside, exercise, and breathe. You'll feel so much better for it. I expect Hank Green will, as well.

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