“Sluggish from excessive sleep, making a deep imprint in my couch, starting to forget what the outside world looks like…vacation is taking its toll.”
Starting at 11:35 p.m. on Dec. 18, I spent about 20 minutes staring at these 25 words, hopelessly wondering how I could fix them. My eyes rolled across each letter and weaved through the punctuation from front to back, then back to front, then front to back again. I stared until the white page burned holes in my eyes and the words lost all meaning. I had written this little observation, but I couldn’t publish it because it wasn’t good enough. Alas, it was 147 characters long.
During my winter break, while I wasn’t eating pretzel sticks or watching reruns of Top Chef, I was shaking my fists at my living room’s ceiling and cursing the gods of the Internet for settling on such an arbitrary value as 140 characters to be the brick wall for all creative content publishable on Twitter.
Other social media sites, like Facebook and Google Buzz, give users much more leeway in deciding how much of their streams of consciousness to publish at once. But on Twitter, if you so much as approach the line between single-minded quip and premeditated semi-paragraph, the site makes you take a hard step back and reevaluate what you think the world should hear you say.
After resisting the trend for nearly two years, I signed up for Twitter in September when it was required for my journalism class. We were required to tweet about some topic once a week, and that’s exactly what I did. Once a week.
After a little exploration, though, I started to use the site a bit more liberally and began to understand why it appeals to so many people. Whenever I had something to say, I went ahead and said it. It was like constantly setting a new status on Facebook, without being one of those people who always sets new statuses on Facebook. I realized I could make public observations and pass along neat articles and videos without ending up on my grandmother’s newsfeed.
By November, I was a full-time tweeter. Every time I watched the Jets lose or my feet were sore after a late night walk across campus, my followers heard about it.
But Twitter authorship, I was soon surprised to find, was no simple job. Each time I sat down to tweet, it took me a near-eternity to publish. I’d spend 10 seconds thinking of what to say and 10 minutes cutting and squeezing until it fit inside that ruthless 140-character containment dome.
I always knew how important it was be concise, but I was never all that good at it. When placed in front of a keyboard, I’ve been known to use to use twice as many words as I need to make my point. Twitter changed that.
All the accumulated hours I spent staring at that thin azure text bar, pondering how to consolidate words and phrases without losing their meaning, has changed the way I think about language. On Twitter, concise language isn’t advantageous. It’s essential.
This quarter I’m in a new journalism class, where twice a week my instructor bellows about the sacredness of brevity and clarity. When we were assigned to write bare-bones news leads with nary a comma or dependent clause, I already felt like I knew what I was doing.
I knew to say “I think” instead of “I think that,” because “that” is nothing more than a waste of four precious characters. I knew not to use mid-sentence punctuation unless it was absolutely necessary. And I knew that it was all but useless to insert the word “absolutely” before an adjective (okay, maybe I still have some work to do). Because in the world of the Internet, where my fingers will fall off and manicure each other before they run out of room to type, that goddamn bird taught me the hard way to stay tethered to that 140-character leash.
Everyone has a different opinion about the value of Twitter: some say it’s the future of modern communication, others say it’s making us dumber, some think it’s selfish to think the whole world will care about how upset you are over your burnt cheese sandwich. All I can say for sure is that the site has made me a far more efficient author of text than I ever could have imagined in my wildest dreams better writer.