280 and 1 vs 5298 and 150. That is the main problem with public discourse today.
Ok, fine, I’ll elaborate.
The limit on the number of characters in a tweet is 280. That is up from the previous limit of 140, a change made in late 2017. The average number of characters in a word (by the way, I just hit 280 characters in this post) is 5. That means the maximum number of words in the new, liberated gasbag era of Twitter is, on average, somewhere approaching 50 (leaving room for spaces and such). How good are you at expressing your complete assessment of a situation in 50 words? If you’re really bad at it, you’re better than most.
Most tweets are generated in reaction to something. Sometimes it’s something that’s just happened, and sometimes is just another tweet. But either way, there are zero mechanisms in place to prevent you from tweeting something as fast as your fingers can move. The general thought is, on average, it takes a minute or less to generate a tweet, from inspiration to immortality.
280 characters and 1 minute.
My first blog post, by comparison, was 5298 characters, and 936 words. Thinking back to my first draft of that post, and how many times I went back and tweaked it, I’d say I spent about 150 minutes actually writing or editing it. Granted, I probably spent more time on that inaugural post than I typically will from here on out, because let’s face it, it’s all about first impressions. But that’s how much time it took me to really think through what point I wanted to make, and how I wanted to say it.
5298 characters and 150 minutes.
Public discourse today is overwhelmingly in the 280 and 1 world, and it needs more than ever to move back to the 5298 and 150 world. This is not all Twitter’s fault. On Facebook and Instagram, the meme is even worse, typically doling out irrefutable wisdom in 10 to 20 words. And before any of these platforms were in place, we were already in a world of sound bites. Look no further than the political TV ad, where the challenge is to tell millions of people why they should pick this person over the other in the course of 30 seconds. No wonder it all gets reduced to mud-slinging; what kind of meaningful discussion of the issues can you have in 30 seconds? And of course slogans didn’t arise with the advent of TV; they’ve been around as long as politics has. And so the only thing we really end up saying to each other is “Yay for our team, the other team is stupid/evil/lying, and anybody who disagrees with me is an idiot. And this picture of a cat underscores my point.”
To be concise (now I’m doing it), human beings have become lazy communicators, effectively neutering one of the abilities that allowed us to rise to our current status of dominant species on Earth. No doubt we will soon find a way to nullify the opposable thumb as well; its main purpose today is to type tweets.
I will do my part in this blog to help move us away from these unfortunate trends. But in so doing, my blog will automatically generate a tweet and a post to Facebook, so I’ll probably accomplish a net of zero. The only possible salvation is if you actually read this. So really it’s all on you.
I hope you have enjoyed these 2619 characters.