Honey, I Shrunk The #Words

Zouch, April 30, 2012.

Flash fiction, as an example of miniature literature, isn’t new. It antedates social media.

But the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and their clones may have fanned the trend toward pithiness. They’ve fostered a written culture where brevity trumps it all.

Ornate, mammoth sentences à la Virginia Woolf, have fallen by the wayside of history.

Modern thoughts are conveyed in far less long-winded constructions. That, in itself, isn’t a worrisome development. But whittling down a piece of text, from size 18 to size 2, without losing its essence, calls for talent and finesse.

A famous Andy Warhol quotation.

Go to the blogging platform, Tumblr, and you’ll find oneself witnessing an endless parade of pictures.

Imbecilic, solipsistic, intelligent, grungy, sentimental, graphic, gastronomic, scenic, artistic, aesthetic, idyllic, the range of still-photographs and cinegraphs arrayed is limitless.

But—barring those posted by news organizations, a slim fraction has captions. What they do have, however, are tags.

An image draped in nothing but a few hashtagged words feels deficient, decontextualized, and disembodied. Admittedly, they’re a wonderfully efficient way of sorting content, but they do a poor job of describing a given photograph or a GIF.

As if to compensate for the absence of any sort of descriptive element, tags have gotten ridiculously longer, some sentence-length.

I recently came across a few, which stood out for their sheer monstrosity.

“Too early in the morning for this,” went one.
“Your lips make me cry,” read another.

Both accompanied a set of animated GIFs that showed a platinum-haired teen, furiously gesticulating—over and over again. These tags are wordy, but reveal nothing. They answer none of a thinking person’s queries like who is this and what is he doing and why?

To express oneself through a bunch of tags, in writing, is analogous, I feel, to reading cereal boxes, as opposed to books. If one has the leisure to craft a protracted tag, then, surely, that person also has the time to write a proper sentence.

Now, take a gander at the virtual pinboard, Pinterest, touted to be the hottest social network of the day.

An infinitely more aesthetically pleasing sight than Tumblr, it’s a collage of “pins” of stuffed tomatoes bubbling with cheese; a tastefully decorated breakfast nook; a lush backyard grotto; a Darth Vader-inspired desk lamp; and more dainties, curios, doodads, and bling.

The act of “pinning” is addictively simple. Each time one plucks out a shiny and thumbtacks it, one is served a small “Description” box in which to type out, well, a description.

Inconveniently enough, a scant few do. The “pinners” choose instead, to let others know about how they feel about it, typically in single-word expressions like “want,” “perfect,” “yum.”

Perhaps, all this is the equivalent of the “lazy web” phenomenon, where Internet consumers, too lazy to summon even a search engine, outsource their assorted questions to their social networks.

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