I'm Still Talking & You're Not Listening

I hear a lot of talk about how discourse in this country is crumbling but I'm not that convinced. Sure, the sound-bite, short attention span, hyper-kinetic transmission of ideas seems to dominate popular media but, for those that are interested, a much more substantial conveyance of ideas is still available.

One thing is pretty much indisputable, though. Each successive generation of social networking lends itself to utterances that are less substantiative than those of the generation prior.

People who study such things will argue at great length about which online service constituted the first Social Networking site, at least as we have come to understand the term, but the first that I was aware of was Live Journal. Though it was clunky and offered virtually no services by today's standards, I think of LJ kind of fondly. Being almost entirely text based, having very few formatting options, offering no games and having no character limit, Live Journal was great for lengthy diatribes. In-fact, long windedness was a desirable trait in those days. Though posts could be as short as you liked them, the formatting of the page lent itself to texts of some length as if implicitly saying, "If you can't fill the space, what you think can't be that important." The idea was not so much to get responses, as to see how long one could hold readers' attention.

Live Journal was supplanted by Myspace, which was much more rapid-fire. It did still have a blog option though, allowing for longer, more detailed, posts. Myspace offered much more functionality and thus could take up much more of a user's time on things other than composing text. The most convenient means of communicating information was on a front page, where ideas were kept pretty short.

Of course Facebook is the Social Network De Jure and it promotes even greater brevity than it's progenitors. With no option whatsoever for lengthy treatise, Facebook puts a limit on the number of characters in a post and the limit isn't all that high by the standards of informed discourse. Posts are limited to a few hundred words at best.

And most recently, Twitter limits you to a text message, to a scant one hundred and forty characters, no exposition, no elucidation and no extemporization. This is near to the minimum length for a syntactically correct English language utterance.

What does this do to the expansion of discourse that the internet initially promised us? Certainly, there are plenty of doom-sayers that point to the sound-bite nature of modern media and that assert that discourse, as a mode of human activity, is on it's way out. They may be right and this constant foreshortening of utterance is the first plague in an information apocalypse.

On the other hand, I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing. We were told from the time the internet first entered our homes that the future would involve more and more information, more and more access to that information and that more and more of our lives would be taken up with interacting with that information. We accepted these premises at the time but didn't stop to think that, with that much more information, we'd have to find new ways of consuming it.

Obviously, I'm a fan of the elucidated statement and I presume you are as well, since you've read most of a seven-hundred word blog post on the subject. I'm simply saying that the method I've used here is not and should not be the only valid means of information conveyance. Perhaps this push towards brevity is an opportunity. Perhaps this is a chance to distill our ideas and prune our statements. Perhaps these communication tools will force our expressions to be denser and more impactful even as they force them to be shorter.

We can hope, can't we?

1 comment:

Tom Harper said...

OMG. UR right. FWIW, LOL.

I think MTV is actually the root of this "soundbitization" of the language and people's thinking processes. It's the norm now, but when that channel started in the early '80s, everything seemed so bizarre. Commercials, VJ announcements -- everything seemed like this rapidfire series of short phrases, images, pictures, all coming at you 100 miles an hour.

I think this paved the way for today's communication style on the Internet.