These days, though, I’m afraid my verbose tendencies mean that I’m approaching dinosaurhood. Today’s with-it people are text messaging or using an online thing called “Twitter” to send “tweets.” Both of which actually demand short messages. Texting requires them because you have to type the message out on a tiny keyboard using your thumbs, which seems like a chore to me. Twitter, on the other hand, originally dictated messages containing no more than 140 characters, although now it allows 280 characters.
I’m not exactly sure whether spaces count as characters, but a “t” and a space each require a tap on the big key at the bottom of the keyboard, so I suspect spaces do count. Even if they don’t, 140 characters is pretty short and 280 isn’t a whole lot better.
To meet the demand for short messages, Messengers resort to toying with the language. They misspell words to shorten them, for example — even reducing them to a single letter. The shorter words are then planted in shorter sentences, such as “I luv U.”
I can’t deal with the limits, and this essay makes that obvious. With a 140-character limit, I couldn’t finish the first three sentences, and the fourth sentence uses up 230 characters all by itself. That would leave me with only 50 characters — maybe six or seven average words — to write the rest of the column. Besides, I’m an antique English teacher and opposed on principle to misspelling words, unless I’m trying to reproduce Gomer Pyle’s accent or trying to be funny.
I might be in trouble, though. From what I read in the papers, this Twitter stuff is now an important, if not the major, way of spreading information around the country. Even the president has adopted tweeting as his way of communicating with we the people, and most people think that’s just fine and dandy.
I don’t think it is, though. A short tweet is a good way to call attention to a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, an act of Congress or the condition of the nation’s highways, but that’s all it can do. The tweeter can’t convey information sufficient for recipients of his tweet to fully understand what has happened and how to respond. It can’t explain the how and why of what has happened, or say much about what it might do to us.
That’s all right if people respond by looking for more information so they can fully understand the event and decide how to respond to it. As citizens in a democratic nation, we need more information than can be contained in a short message so we can evaluate our government’s response to it and develop our own.
The past few weeks are a case in point. I do not follow Twitter, although I’ve looked at tweets that have been reported in other sources. In the past two weeks, though, my email has been inundated with emails from politicians, pressure groups and news organizations concerning the so-called “tax reform” now working its way through Congress.
Most of the sources have aimed their messages at convincing me one way or the other and because of that, the information is biased. The bias is magnified by the lack of information in the brief messages. It has all been very confusing.
I have been trying, with limited success, to find some more objective information about the tax bill. The bill has not reached its final form yet, and few details have been made public. Most of what I have found leads me to believe that once the bill is passed, our tax system will still be a mess. It will still be complicated and there will be some unfair provisions. That’s about all I can determine from all the shouting going on by proponents and opponents of the bill.
That shouting is the problem, and communication devices like Twitter are a major source of the noise. What we need is fewer tweets — whether they come from the White House, Congress, pressure groups or news organizations — and more objective information from non-partisan sources.
Of course, Americans would have to obtain that information and evaluate it themselves and I’m not sure most of us would do that.
We’re all too busy reading our email and tweeting on Twitter.