Are we seeing the devolution of the written word?

It’s the latest ubiquitous story topic throughout dead tree and electronic media and THE thing everybody absolutely must use or be left in the dust. “Tweeeting” on Twitter.

I don’t — and won’t — “tweet.” While I know it’s ill-advised to be critical of something you’ve never used, I simply fail to see how my activities and thoughts are so important I need to update people immediately. In fact, I’ve found thoughts and ideas tend to evolve and improve with a bit of time. As it’s too many years since psych class, I’m not sure if it’s ego or narcissism or both that drives this compulsion to update everybody all the time on everything we’re doing or thinking. But what concerns me more is what it may indicate about the written word.

Granted, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are nearing 60 years of age. Yet whether it’s decreasing attention spans or information overkill, we seem to want what we read in smaller and smaller doses. Even blogs are an indicator. Some blog posts may run 1,000 words or even more. I’d wager, though, that there are just as many, if not more, that are in the range of 100 words or less and consist of little more than observation or reaction with little or no thought or analysis.

And what is Twitter called? “Microblogging.” Or, as one Twitter user told the local daily, “It’s blogging for lazy people.” And therein lies my concern. Are we becoming so lazy we demand written information consist of no more than 140 characters? Is instant “knowledge” more important than greater comprehension? Do we really care if a celebrity is at Starbucks or planning a birthday party for their child? And if it’s a friend who’s at the coffee shop, why “tweet” instead of simply calling or texting?

I don’t fault Twitter itself. It is simply the most recent “in” thing that converts our diet of written information into increasingly smaller bites. And evidently being an old man like Jon Stewart, I have no idea of “why it is.” Yet there does seem one point of solace. Given the 140 character limit, we can’t be losing much of substance.

Microblogging platforms like Twitter … are the fast food equivalent of the blogging world.

Michael Arrington, TechCrunch,
State of the Blogosphere 2008

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