People using fewer words as Twitter turns ten

The soul of wit: long, difficult words are not always the best way to make yourself understood.

Twitter recently celebrated its tenth birthday. Around 200 billion messages are sent on it each year. People are using fewer words than ever to express themselves – should we be worried?

What’s happening

On March 21st 2006, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet: ‘just setting up my twttr’. Ten years on, around 6,000 tweets are sent per second; 320 million people, including presidents and the Pope, use Twitter. Some even say it influenced the result of the 2015 UK general election.

Find out more

Dorsey and his colleagues say they want to ‘simplify complexity’, inspired by brief messages on social media, like Facebook statuses. As Twitter has gone global, longer forms of expression have declined: the Royal Mail delivered 30% fewer letters and parcels in the UK in 2012 than 2005.

Some believe that the 140 characters limit can improve writing. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius says: ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote an entire story in six words: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

Others worry that brevity makes us less intelligent. For example, the CEO of Amazon has banned PowerPoint from meetings, telling staff that proper sentences offer ‘better thought and better understanding’ than simple bullet points.

Some say…

‘Good things, when short, are twice as good,’ as the great Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracián said. And many agree.

Others think…

Rubbish: there is no point being brief just for the sake of it. When you try to simplify big ideas, you often lose a lot in the process. Think about it: could you really sum up an entire novel in 140 characters? As novelist Gregory David Roberts puts it, ‘Anything that can be put in a nutshell should remain there’.

You Decide

  1. Is it good to express ourselves briefly?

Activities

  1. Sum up the above article, in 140 characters or less. Discuss: was it easy? Is it better than the full article?

Some People Say...

“Life is too short for detail.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

140 characters
The maximum length of a tweet (a Twitter message).
Brevity
Shortness. Shakespeare means that a witty or memorable statement in few words is more effective than a long-winded speech.
Ernest Hemingway
An American novelist famous for his adventurous life and concise writing style.
PowerPoint
A computer program for creating presentations, often using bullet points.
Nutshell
To put something ‘in a nutshell’ means to summarise it in as few words as possible.

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