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RT: Getting these #wordsonline @ucbFIT

Written By: daveski on February 19, 2010 3 Comments

I remember what a good friend told me several years after he had finished his PhD in New York and moved to Osaka, Japan. We were going over some old emails–you know, the quality kind, the long kind of emails that were composed and not just dashed off in a series of bullet points and emoticons? The kind that had some emotion written into them? I read him a little portion of what he had written years before, and he seemed to be struck by the power of his own words, from a different time, from a different state of mind, and, who knows, maybe even a different state of literacy. “Damn. I don’t think I can write like that anymore,” he told me.

I think I know what he means. Think I know better now than ever that odd admixture of emotions one feels when presented with one’s own writing and seeing it not only as better, but as someone else’s. Where, you might wonder if you’ve experienced this too, have I gone? What happened?

Well, I have one idea, and I want to use the rest of the post to try to figure it out.  (“Hah!”, goes the internal editor. “How do I even know what the rest-of-this-post is? When did I become conscious of the finiteness of a blog post? Can’t it go on forever?”).

retweetShush for now, internal editor. You see, more and more these days, I’ve been sending oodles of text messages, and posting on Facebook and tweeting on Twitter and using a few other social networking and micro-blogging style sites. Yeah, “microblogging“. And even if the name for the genre sounds like it’s more about making beer than making text, you’re probably familiar with Facebook’s 420 character limit for status updates (Can’t you almost hear Zuckerberg and the other 350 mil saying, “Sorry, fool, nobody wants to read that much about you!”). Text messaging cuts off at 160. And Twitter, as is pretty well known, has a 140-character limit.

There are lots of articles out there that talk about the social effects of Twitter, and question whether or not tweeting is really writing anyway. But instead of presenting outside evidence, I thought I’d run a little personal experiment and try to see what gives when one turns into a microblogger. Do you become unable to develop a thought beyond a sentence or two? Lose track of the poetic aspects of language? Feel impatient if something can’t be summarized in a single breath? Fear you’re going to lose your reader if they have to move on to the next line of text?

As the “patient”, I’ll put on the table one of my own blog posts here on FIT–one from a year and a half ago, that told the story of temptation and resistance to the corporate lures of paid internet access in Düsseldorf. “Getting these words online” was a story that started off in the abstract and then, only gradually, started to name what it was talking about. I thought at the time the essence of a post like that couldn’t possibly be captured in 420 characters, let alone 140.

Well, let’s give it a shot. After all, they say, anything can be tweeted, can’t it??? And heck, it’ll probably be good for me. Help me stop blathering so much.

So, Paragraph 1:

I’ve finally sat in the lair of the enemy in order to write these words to you, one step from surrender. When did the solitude of simply being with one’s voice and  thoughts become oppressive? We used to be able to recite our words in our minds without necessarily giving voice to them. And there was a time when we could write them out without sending them somewhere, everywhere. Have speaking and broadcasting become the same?

Lovely! But rather verbose, don’t you think? Let’s condense that down to tweetsize:

RT @daveski Sitting down in cafe, feeling oppression of #mythoughts and #myvoice. Have speaking and broadcasting become the same?

Only 102 characters! Not quite sure if my readers will know quite why I’m writing this (another #cryptictweet!), but let’s not worry about that right now. On to Paragraph 3…

I’ve walked the streets here with my compass in hand, not wanting to give in so easily, addicted but loathe to buy. I checked at every street corner and every public place of gathering, monitoring for signs of openness, availability, potential. I need to get these words online but…things work differently here.

Which gives us…

RT @daveski Wandering streets with electronic compass, addicted (http://bit.ly/Dd8Cc) but loathe to give in. Gotta get these #wordsonline tho…

Shoot, I was gonna write “loathe to give in to temptation”, but that ran up the character count to 146. The meaning still gets across, though, right? Do you have to know what daveski was giving in to? Maybe not in a blog post; but in a microblog post?

Wait a minute, now I’m not so sure if this tweet makes sense after the first one, ’cause now it looks like I was wandering the streets after I sat in the cafe. What happened to my narrative structure? Well, at least I got that hyperlink in. Thanks, bit.ly!

Now, a paragraph I remember being pretty proud of when I wrote it. Nothing like a little poetic ingenuity in a blog post, right?

I must have seen two hundred names flash past my eyes. They all turned out to be mirages, fading quickly or remaining behind locked doors. And though I’ve tried to ignore her, the princess in her dark green circle beckons at almost every turn, promising a quick end to my suffering, offering me refuge in her cozy web of connectivity. I never would have thought that forest green and hot pink were so natural together. Have they always been?

Yeah, whatever, Fluffyboy. Get ready for some twitpoetry…

RT @daveski #Starbucks princess in #darkgreenlogo, never far from #TMobile_pink, promises me refuge from the offline world. Ubiquitous, and so darn hard to ignore…

Still coming in clean at only 131 characters. Should I @one_of_my_friends too, so they’ll be sure to see it?

OK, yeah, sure, I felt a little compunction–a slight twinge of guilt, shall we say–at betraying my own narrative, at giving away the fact that “the princess in her dark green circle” was actually the Starbucks logo, and just spelling out T-Mobile for everyone to see.

But, seriously, would you have recognized “hot pink” as having to do with T-Mobile? Plus, think of all the places my tweet might get picked up with those hashtags on it. And all kidding aside, it just seems pretty hard to ‘keep things under wraps’ when space is already at such a premium. How do you–how can you–write in layers, with multiple voices, in a tweet? Is that even possible? What would Bahktin have said?


Hmm, now that you bring that up, this doesn’t seem quite as promising as I thought it might be. Let’s try one more and see what I come up with:

This coffee is turning lukewarm. My ‘compass’ sits in my pocket, powered down now after leading me into this T-Mobile network. My feet hurt after covering miles in downtown Düsseldorf. And now I’ve been at this table for almost an hour. It’s been fifteen since the nice gentleman in the green apron, same princess emblazoned on front (surely you know the one!), cleared my tray. My power adapter is still plugged into the wall, bulbous universal adapter bringing down the 220 volts for my old G4 PowerBook. Battery’s back at 96%, the only consolation I have for placing myself in this establishment. It’s time to give in or head out.


RT @daveski Coffee lukewarm. iPod off. Feet hurt. Waiter out of sight. G4 P’Book charging. Sitting, sitting, sitting. It’s decision time.

108 characters. Does it work? You tell me. I’m getting confused. And still wondering if I can write like that anymore…

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3 Responses to “RT: Getting these #wordsonline @ucbFIT”

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 21 February 2010 at 12:43 pm

    @fansofDski: @daveski thank you for getting these words online. #brilliance.

  2. jessica on: 22 February 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Do you become unable to develop a thought beyond a sentence or two? Lose track of the poetic aspects of language? Feel impatient if something can’t be summarized in a single breath? Fear you’re going to lose your reader if they have to move on to the next line of text?


  3. daveski on: 22 February 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Nice to hear from @both_of_you. Glad you liked it! 🙂

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