It’s Not Twitter. It’s Us.

Zouch, September 23, 2011.

Each time I entered this medium, I got the impression that I’d walked into a bacchanalian party that was in full swing. A stranger would hiss an abbreviated response to an invisible interlocutor somewhere.

Elsewhere, a reveler would introduce a link through a shoddy spectacle of grammatical massacre. In a corner, a seller would drone on day in and day out, trying to draw attention to his or her wares. A coffee brand would gurgle away noisily about the virtues of a new brew.

Dear reader, I am speaking of Twitter, and what kept me away from it much longer than perhaps, the most of you.

The Twitter "fail whale."
The Twitter “fail whale.”

The Twitterverse has become a crowded, messy place, bursting with the raucous gabbing of some 100 million active users, each screaming to be heard over the din, and who are responsible for issuing an average of 230 million tweets a day. No less formidable is the size of the forest of Twitter clients, which includes everything from TweetDeck to yFrog to Twellow.

Tim O’Reilly, the CEO of technology publisher O’Reilly Media, once told the Los Angeles Times, “Twitter is the most minimal newspaper.”

Oh, really? I could be the editorial equivalent of a Victorian prude, with a pink parasol, but I can’t imagine a single newspaper—even the riffraff among them—that would publish the sort of intellectual flotsam that abounds on Twitter.

Seeing the lamentable state of this written communication style, some self-appointed vigilantes have taken it upon themselves to point out to the culprits their mistakes. They scold them, shame them, and poke fun at them publicly.

But, what will a handful of grammar cops do? It’s a carnival of mediocrity out there, where the signal-to-noise ratio is woefully low. An oft-heard beef about the network is that it doesn’t give the user enough room to write complete sentences. The wall closes in at 140 characters.

True, space is scare.

But, it’s not that. It’s us. We neither take the time nor make the effort to write clear and unabridged thoughts that are grammatically error-free and light on exclamation points.

When I signed up for Twitter last year, I was surprised to see just how much I could squeeze into a single tweet—23 whole words. Maneuvering one’s ideas on Twitter calls for delicate finesse and precision. It reminds me of the two-pan balance of the analog days, where a fraction of a pound could tilt it. On Twitter, the scant weight of a comma can upset the equilibrium of an Sanforized thought, and cause it to fail to upload.

This, more than any other social media platform, takes the rap for maiming our writing skills. I’m not being a Twitter evangelist when I say this, but we can’t really fault the service for eating away at our sense of proper English.

Twitter defines itself as a “micro-blogging” service. I follow that to the tee. Tweets, to me, are hence, short bursts of miniature posts. Twitter is a school for honing my précis-writing skills, a forum that teaches me to compose my thoughts in a manner that makes the optimal use of space.

So, I set out to challenge my own premise. I decided to distill an entire non-fiction book of 300-odd pages into a convoy of tweets. The proof of what I humbly regard as my modest achievement, is a string of 214 hopefully legible tweets, or roughly 4,922 characters.

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