What's a Tweet?
This is a blog post. It's clearly not a Tweet*. What's the difference? Is it just because this is on my private blog and a tweet is on the platform we call Twitter? Or, since Twitter began has there arisen a technique - indeed a culture - of how to construct an effective tweet? I think a tweet usually has a style - a style that quickly evolved from the constraint that is 140 characters. Forced into that environment, language took on the form that it did; tweets evolved to be succinct in a way that other mediums did not promote. Here, on my blog, where resources are plentiful and my thoughts can eat up all the characters that are available to them, a certain kind of verbose and descriptive style abounds where metaphor conjures images of ideas as being expressible in certain environments and that this means species of communication can evolve. We should value those species. If someone wants to write long form: get a blog. If you want to sample many ideas quickly: look at twitter. If you want to combine the two: link to your blog from a tweet.
David Deutsch made the point elegantly in a couple of tweets when Twitter decided that it would experiment with 280 character Tweets for some people. David wrote:
Would you redefine
A haiku to have double
The syllable count?
The point here being: any small change (to the number of syllables) makes things worse. And also: there's simply a tradition. And why? Well traditions last because they work. They are ideas that survive. Twitter has survived as long as it has for a reason. Perhaps not as enduring, thus far, as a haiku
In another Tweet:
The contrarian natives of Limerick
Thought the rules of the eponymous verse form arbitrary.
They tried to break loose,
But what is the use
Of free form that just makes the thing humourless?
This makes the point even more powerfully. Here it is obvious (if you are familiar with the form of a Limerick) that something has gone terribly wrong. Why change what already works? Rhyming is what makes a limerick a limerick. If you don't follow the meter - the pattern of rhyming - that a limerick demands - you get something worse. A limerick simply *is* of the form:
There was a young man called @jack
And characters he felt he did lack
So up went the limit
Much better now innit?
More room for everyone's craic.
Anything that deviates from that style isn't a limerick. Anything more than 140 characters isn't a Tweet. It's something else. 140 characters forces upon people a style. Especially for thoughts that cannot normally be easily expressed in 140 characters or less.
Rather randomly choosing some Tweets (from Sam Harris who Tweets far less than he once did) and David Deutsch respectively we get:
We can oppose all extremism and dogmatism, while recognizing that not all extremes and dogmas are the same. The fine print still matters.
Knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism—in Darwin's theory, mutation and natural selection. Lamarckism tries to do without either.
Tweets are very dense. In the first one is 137 characters and the second is 139. Sam has actually used an article ("the") but this is rarer in tweets because those are typically unnecessary. Sam has attempted to explain a complex idea succinctly. He's forced into being clear because he is limited. There are differences between dogmas. The details matter. The second tweet by David is even more dense. It makes a bold claim about two kinds of knowledge and contrasts this with an alternative. An important point lurks here: in both cases the tweet serves as a starting point for engaging with the broader work of both authors. Just pick up their books to find out more.
If people want to tweet longer, there is actually a service called http://www.twitlonger.com or even http://talltweets.com (just google "tweet longer"). My preference is to simply link to my own blog. Or sometimes take a screen shot of a longer bit of text and post it as a picture. But I do this rarely. It's cheating!
*I don't know when to capitalise Tweet. I've mixed things up here with tweet and Tweet. Probably not ideal...
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