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 (http://onforb.es/v7XLCB). 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?