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Rediff.com  » Business » Outside Edge: Wit and wisdom in 140 characters

Outside Edge: Wit and wisdom in 140 characters

April 14, 2009 19:36 IST

Can one express ideas that would change the world, simply inspire it, or just allow oneself to be heard, in a box containing 140 characters?

That is the test of Twitter, the latest plague of distraction to spread around the world, challenging the verbose and the tongue-tied alike.

Would the seminal thoughts of Man endure the squeeze of Twitter? Could we, in 140 spaces, prove a rose by any other name can spell as Tweet?

The Ten Commandments are tricky: acknowledging God (101 char), not taking His name in vain (128) or honouring mum and dad (108) fit a Tweet.

Commandments to forsake other gods (515), keep the Sabbath (493) or shun various kinds of coveting (192), though, are too prolix to Twitter.

However, He could safely ban murder, adultery, theft and bearing false witness in one Tweet, leaving 10 spaces for an @Moses repeat twitter.

The New Testament offers us no stronger chance of finding a concise version of enlightenment. After all, parables and beatitudes need space.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are those other chaps.

But if divine words may not be clipped, perhaps the profound communications of Man himself lend themselves more to 140-space online editing?

To be or not to be? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or, er, not.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable um.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the (cont'd)

So, sonnets are out. Very brief limericks maybe. But no big multiclause sentences. No complexity of ideas. Just the soul of the soul of wit.

On the other hand, one of the greatest ideas of all -  e=mc2 - is said and done in 5 keystrokes. Albeit that explaining it takes rather more.

And we can say a very great deal - I¢¾U - in almost no space at all. So is language to be celebrated for ineffable variety, depth and colour?

Or its use as data? For a 1 or a 0 are all we need to make and keep the A and §Ù of life. We got to the moon on the back of a few good nmbrs.

Nxt, the vxt ? of txt. Shd we spk shrt to max msg? Or are there times when, in the frigidity of abbreviation, extenuation is its own reward?

Perhaps we should consider the thoughts of one of those who gave us this strangely addictive form of curt communication, namely Jack Dorsey.

Twitter's founder said: "One could change the world with one hundred and forty characters." Twice even given this tweet was a mere 65 long.

Twitter cuts news to telex language: banks unhave hope moneywise. But is that such a bad thing?After all, every reporter needs a good editor.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Ben Fenton
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