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?