In defense of our Greatest Twitter-ers.

My man Hoopes and I have had a little back and forth going (see here, here, and here) about the impact of modern communication methods on human interaction. His latest (the third “here” above) was a humorous attempt to channel some greats of American history and re-imagine what they might have tweeted at their greatest moments.

Now it looks like John White is getting in on the luddite act.

Pretty soon they’ll probably be thinking Abe Simpson was onto something: “Dear Mr. President, there are too many states these days. Please eliminate three. I am NOT a crackpot.”

And I’m sure Hoopes and White would have found like-minded individuals back when the telegraph was introduced. Forget “OMGs” and “LMAOs,” communications became violated by the dots and dashes of Morse Code!

The flaw, of course, is the famous fallacy of the reductio ad teenagerum. Would George Washington, if given the technology, have tweeted something about Valley Forge at all? Well, given that the British would likely have been monitoring his feed, not bloody likely. As for Lewis and Clark, Twitter and Facebook would have been absolutely fantastic ways for them to share their discoveries and photographs (assuming they also had digital cameras). But even if they were the tweeting types, methinks they would have kept their discourse on a higher level.

Natch, it’s impossible to say with certainty how a given technology that we experience would have affected an earlier age. What we can do, however, is look at some of what some of those people actually did say, and consider how Twitter-worthy their actual statements were, respecting Twitter’s 140-character limit:

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” = 58 characters.

“We have met the enemy and they are ours.” = 38 characters.

“I have not yet begun to fight!” = 30 characters.

“Nuts” = 4 characters.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” = 79 characters.

“Never has so much been done for so many by so few.” = 50 characters. (Yes, yes, Churchill was British, but it still works for the point.)

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” = 34 characters.

“The British are coming!” = 23 characters.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” = 40 characters.

“This day is a day that shall live in infamy.” = 44 characters.

“Give me liberty or give me death!” = 33 characters.

“A republic. If you can keep it.” = 31 characters.

“I have a dream that one day all children will be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.” = 124 characters. (I paraphrased to make the point on this one)

“#RememberTheAlamo!” = 18 characters.

The list goes on. Turns out our great personages of history would have been adept tweeters. And they did not even need the abbreviations or harebrained teen-speak to get their important points across in Twitter-worthy snippets!

I bet Washington, Jefferson, et al. would also have very much appreciated the role Twitter and other social media played in the Iranian student uprising of 2009, and in the Egyptian uprising of earlier this year, both instances of state brutality getting out to the world only because of those person-based mass communication methods.

Then, of course, there was the recent article by Jennifer Fulwiler enumerating five reasons the internet will make the world more pro-life. Of the reasons she gives, even the ones that are not directly about social media can be shared more readily through social media than if they were just sitting their, static, on their own pages of the world wide web.

So while it is easy to point at a kind of atomization of society, a sort of degradation of language, shortened attention spans, the positive effects of the social media cannot be ignored either.

And besides: these means of communication are not going anywhere, so does it make more sense to figure out how best to use them? Or to dwell on their negative aspects thus harming your ability to reach those who do find them useful and even necessary?



  • Tom Hoopes

    Well, I started a post on this but couldn’t finish it … very busy at the college right now, ironically (it’s summer!). Then I considered posting a 140 character response to make a point, but that looked obnoxious. I hope to develop it more later, but for the moment, I’ll leave the 140-character version here, with the links following.
    @TomCrowe Great speeches & quotes; alas, not tweets. Now, argue it in 140 characters! (Also, account for brain research. And Amway-ized friendships. And neglect.)
    [brain research]
    [Amway-ized friendships]

    • Tom Crowe

      Hoopes— First, I’m with you on the “it’s summer! Why is this campus busier than during the semester!?” And I would have laughed at a 140-character response. But it would have abused your point. ——— Do you pretend that those of us who tweet have altered all our communications to 140-character snippets? Or might we grab “highlights” from longer works to make a point, along with a shortened url, to get people to read the full thing? The latter was the point of my post. Those folks would still have made their speeches, but would have been able to tantalize people into reading/listening to more. ——— Does twitter make one evil? No: one chooses to become shallow by not drilling down further and responding to a quick snippet. Twitter may make this easier for some and our concupiscence may make this an easier choice for some, but it is still a choice. Twitter is still the morally neutral tool, regardless of what that scary quote says (citation for that?). But, as has been my point: ’twas ever thus, if a little more difficult. ——— The Amway stuff is the latest version of water-cooler talk: who watched what on TV last night and what do we all think about it and what’s wrong with you that you didn’t watch the same show we all did; who bought what thing they’re wearing and where and how much it cost and what’s wrong with you that you’re still wearing those old togs; who hates the coffee at the office and where they get their morning joe with what kind of creamer and what’s wrong with you that you still drink the office swill. Ads have always tried to insinuate their way into our social psyche, even back when they were merely in magazines and newspapers. Not sure why Facebook is so bad for taking this into the next phase. ——— Neglect is a choice, as is tweeting, as are soap operas, reading books, crocheting, and so many other activities that one can choose to do rather than do something they ought to do. Again: ’twas ever thus, but twitter gets more notice. ———— See, I’m not saying there are no deleterious effects to the latest culture of Facebook and Twitter: they both allow us an easier avenue to be shallow and fake. We were perfectly capable of both before, but these do make it easier. I do not dispute that. But I note that you haven’t addressed or really admitted to any of the good point I’ve raised about social media: necessary information can be shared more broadly more quickly; shut-ins don’t feel as alone; grandma can actually see picture of grandkids who live too far away; the pro-life effect of the internet; not to mention the mass movements of people who have been able to tell the world about merciless government crackdowns in their homeland. Yes: there are some negatives to what choices social media make easier, but there are great benefits to what they enable as well. And since they aren’t going away any time soon, it makes more sense to redeem the time rather than try to turn back the clock.



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