The tweet-filled void

James Governor has posted two love notes to Twitter over the last couple of days. In the latest, he argues that Twitter’s 140-character limit promotes brevity. He says that the suggestion that you can’t be “either deep or meaningful” in 140 characters or fewer is nonsense – it’s “evidence of the verbosity of our culture.”

I think he’s right that there are far too many words in circulation today, and I also think he’s right that meaning and even profundity can come in tweet-sized packages. But I think he’s wrong to suggest that Twitter is the friend of brevity. For that to be true, we’d have to assume that the messages streaming through Twitter are briefer than they would have been otherwise – that they’ve been pared down to their essence, like telegraphs. I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I don’t think that most tweets are substitutes for longer messages. Rather, they’re additional verbiage layered atop all the existing verbiage. Twitter adds to the great landfill of words; it doesn’t subtract from it.

Twitter, in other words, is the real “evidence of the verbosity of our culture.” But it’s more than that. It speaks to what seems to be a growing fear of silence, of being alone with one’s thoughts. It’s as if there’s some great emptiness that we have to keep throwing words into. To hold one’s tongue is to risk – what, exactly?

9 thoughts on “The tweet-filled void

  1. Al chang

    While the search engine is king? Non-existence, probably.

    “tale told by an idiot” and all that yadda yadda still applies.

  2. alan

    To hold one’s tongue is to risk having to deal with . . . . . . . . . . . .what Nicholas? Alan.

  3. andrew

    It’s not the number of words or characters that matters IMO. It’s the ever-rising bullshit-per-word ratio of our culture that’s worrying! Unless that’s what you mean by verbosity… as in unnecessary verbosity.

  4. Anonymous

    yes, perfect for our teenagers who SMS each other, then follow by phone to make sure the messasge was delivered, then email to confirm both the text and voice message were delivered. I say it is a telco conspiracy to increase messaging traffic -)

  5. Nick Carr

    That’s not what I was trying to say by “too many words.” As our output of words has exploded, our vocabulary seems to have narrowed. Maybe the two phenomena are connected, and are both Orwellian.

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