The twouble with Twitter

In his disturbingly brilliant book The End of Words, Richard Lischer points out the limitations of some of those forms of communication of which we have grown so fond. Whilst we love their graphic impact and their lean efficiency, he points to their limitations. He asks, for instance, what Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech would have looked like in PowerPoint.

I wonder what he would make of Twitter, with it’s particular restrictions? Whilst I am a tremendous fan of this particular form of micro-blogging, I am nonetheless aware of its limitations. Sometimes it is like trying to play Mozart’s horn concerto on one of those little plastic trumpets with two valves which you get in a Christmas cracker. Not only that,but it displays every note which you play in a little speech bubble for all to see.

Conversation is like an intricate dance by candlelight. As each moves around the other, stepping in and out of the light, so their shadows interweave and overlap in patterns of tremendous complexity. The things which make Twitter wonderful also serve to make this almost impossible. Subtlety in 140 characters is an art which few of us can achieve, and the publication of our speech bubbles can be like throwing the dancing couple into stadium-intensity floodlights when what they wanted was candles.

Once or twice on Twitter this week I have seen people needing to backtrack, explain and expand on what they have said because they feel it has been misunderstood. Whilst it is to their credit that they have done so, this also serves as a reminder to all of us about the limitations of speech bubble conversation. This is especially so when the bubble is small and the page on which it is posted is huge.

‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt’ is only 65 characters long,which leaves room for 75 more,  but it also leaves little room for improvement!

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