A summary idea

In dealing with some of last year’s Xmas cards, one from an old friend made me think again how powerful summaries are. The card has a tree on the front with names of sons, daughters and grandchildren round the edges. On the back is a photo of the grandchildren; and a link to an ‘Xmas newsletter’ is on a sticker inside. It has all the hallmarks of a good summary: easy and quick to access, informative but not providing too much potentially unwanted info, and providing clear directions on how to get to more detail. I tried this out on a report back in 1985 and think it worked reasonably well – but haven’t done it since and haven’t seen anything else like it; but my friend’s Xmas card has all the hallmarks. In these days of information proliferation such approaches ought to be researched, taught and practised widely. Some people may think that AI will be able to do this for us; but, be clear, we’re not talking about a simple ChatGPT textual summary – this involves graphics as well as careful selection of content. The question is not whether AI will be able to do this; its whether the result will be any good or not. For the immediate future we would be better advised to focus on educating people in the art of summarisation.

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