07 Nov

Twas the time of social media
And especially Twitter…
And all through this land
Many people were bitter.

One hundred forty characters
And much more to say
Can’t possibly do it
There’s just no way!

Other than the not-so-astonishing fact that I’m not a poet, let’s think about social media and the effect it has on our day-to-day communications.

Forbes staff contributor Alex Knapp writes about whether the popularity of the social medium Twitter is ruining the English language ( Individuals who believe this posit that the truncating of the language will lead to whole generations of young people not knowing their meaning. It’s a good point, in my opinion.

Mr. Knapp confesses to thinking the same until he started using Twitter regularly. Now, he says, “The 140 character restraint not only forces efficiency, but it also lends itself to some really, really fun wordplay.” As a writer who strives to “write tight” to ensure the best reading experience, that is also a good point.

Enter Mark Liberman, Professor of Linguistics from University of Pennsylvania, who wrote a program to compare the mean word length between 100 tweets from the student newsletter and some literary works. He adjusted the program to take out stage directions, character attributes, @s, and #s, etc.

The mean word length in Hamlet (in modern spelling) was 3.99 characters; in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, the mean word length was 4.05 characters; in the newsletter‘s tweets, the mean word length was 4.80 characters.

If you’re judging only by scientific length, words are not being overly shortened.

Then again, my degree is in English and as a language, I think the beauty of the language is more important than the length of the words. Languages evolve and change. That’s a good thing. I don’t think any of us want to be still speaking Shakespeare’s English (BTW-he made up words not common to English during his time).

I also don’t think anyone will mistake social media messages for literature. But, the “need for speed” does seem to apply here. Everyone wants things yesterday. Everyone’s in a hurry. Young readers may not want to wait for a story to develop. They are used to wanting and getting everything NOW. With the popularity of social media, they get instant gratification.

Editors and agents urge writers to start with blockbuster hooks. Get the excitement in. You only have a few paragraphs to sell your book or you’re out of luck. If you don’t get to the meat of your GMC, forget about it.

I want to read books where I get to immerse myself in the setting, be with the story as it develops, learn about the characters as I unwrap the story. I want the richness of the written word. I want to hold my breath reading the perfect sentence. I want passion, emotion, and beauty when I read. I want the time to wonder at the art of the story.

I think for many things, Twitter (and texting) are fast, efficient ways to communicate. As a writer, though, the written word is important and I do worry that young readers won’t bother to take the time to read stories that don’t get them the instant gratification they are used to in social media.

What do you think?


Posted by on November 7, 2011 in community, twitter


Tags: , ,

15 responses to “Twitterpated

  1. Jacquie Rogers

    November 7, 2011 at 1:46 AM

    My cp and I talk about this all the time. She loves to revel in the lushness of the language. I want something to happen. Now. It makes for a good working relationship because I cut her wordcount to manageable size, and she amps mine up by forcing me to describe things. (I skip most description when reading so have a tough time writing it.)

    I think the real culprit came long ago on the news–the 6-second sound bite. And then with the internet, so much stimulation, so easy to go to a more interesting site, so many games–all of it leads to impatience with stories, be they plays, movies, or books. I want to be immersed but I don’t want to wait for it to happen, and that’s pretty typical. Twitter? Well, it takes a lot of time and patience to build a strong presence there, so I don’t have a strong presence there. LOL. I’m @JacquieRogers if anyone would like to follow me, and I’ll follow you back. 🙂

    And hey, I’ll tweet this blog!

    • Janis McCurry

      November 7, 2011 at 7:14 AM

      Jacquie, I hear you. Sound bites have become the norm. OTOH, as noted in the article, many Tweets have links to follow for more info, so there is the opportunity for more depth. I’m with you on Twitter. I’m there, but it’s hard for me to remember to check in.

  2. Liz Flaherty

    November 7, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    I’m trying to build my nerve to join the Twitter generation. I’m not sure you helped me :-), but I enjoyed the post.

    • Janis McCurry

      November 7, 2011 at 7:17 AM

      Liz, thanks for your comment. With publishers and agents wanting writers to form their own readership communities, it’s a becoming standard for us to have to use social media. It’s a demanding part of the job and not always fun!

  3. Meredith Conner

    November 7, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    I’m terrible at Twitter. I remember it one day and forget about it for the next week. Ooops. Then I read an article like the one in this month’s RWR that says if you write romance, the biggest selling feature – outside of a really well-written book – is the author herself. Readers of romance follow the author as well as their books. And you are so right Janis about editors and agents wanting the author to market themselves. So . . . maybe I’ll just add another sticky to my computer about Twitter 🙂

  4. Meredith Conner

    November 7, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    Oh and I just Tweeted your blog 🙂

    • Janis McCurry

      November 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM

      Meredith, wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to write the story and be done with it? LOL. Thanks for the Tweet.

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    November 7, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    Great topic, Janis. I honestly believe that kids learn their reading habits from their parents. Social media and novel-length fiction fill two different needs and aren’t in competition with each other. In fact, my kids often read books they’ve heard about from online sources.

    • Janis McCurry

      November 8, 2011 at 7:08 AM

      That’s a good point. Thanks for weighing in.

  6. Lynn Mapp

    November 7, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Thank you Janis. To tweet or not to tweet? Sooner or later, I’ll have to tweet, but for now, I’ll put that off.

  7. Janis McCurry

    November 8, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    Understand. It’s another piece of time out of your life that has to be prioritized.

  8. Liz Fredericks

    November 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    Sorry I’m late in commenting, Janis, but I think this is an important question. I don’t have large scale data patterns, but observe that my children text/tweet/FB furiously but read at near the same pace.

    • Janis McCurry

      November 8, 2011 at 3:47 PM

      Glad you’re back with us. It sounds like your kids are modeling you.

  9. Mary Vine

    November 8, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    I have an account, I need to get busy with it! Thanks for the blog about it.


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