For those who have wondered where I’ve disappeared to, it’s not very far, and yet, it’s a million miles away. I’ve started to use Twitter to record my short, arcane, and otherwise ridiculous arcania. It’s a fast, immediate, and simple rush to be able to write a thought, or even two, and post it to a small, self-selected group who have “subscribed” to this feed. In fact, “rush” is an appropriate word in more ways than one; posting a thought or two is much like a kind of philosophical “hit” to the brain, and, when it’s over (a minute or two later), the temptation to post another thought arises, quickly.
There’s an adrenaline- (and, for me, sugar- and coffee-) fueled behavior associated with Twittering (or Tweeting) that isn’t anything like writing longer, more complex, more detailed, and more elaborative narratives that typically belong on blogs. Whereas Twitter posts are quick (at 140 characters or less) and their posting immediate, blog posts are generally long and their posting immediate; this means that, after writing a longer piece and posting it to a blog, the blogger is either exhausted or elated, or perhaps, unsatisfied.
I write this in the context of a number of well-known and respected blogs now going out of business. The latest casualty, sadly, is Speak Up!, a blog that focused on the objectives, trends, and function of design. Armin Vit, today, posted his goodbye entry, and, with that, the site will rest. Armin, always a diplomatic and intelligent analyst of all things Web, wrote:
I also strongly believe that the kind of general-topic and long-form writing of Speak Up is just not as appealing as it used to be. With so many web sites devoted to quick bursts of visuals and the proliferation of short-message communication enhanced by Twitter and Facebook, it becomes increasingly hard to hold the attention of anyone. But this could all be debated.
And, it will be. The history of Western literary culture has moved from long Talmudic texts, produced and arranged and re-arranged by thousands of students to Gutenberg’s movable-type production of biblical texts to the proliferation of massive books like the Encyclopedia Britannica and novelistic forms like War and Peace. It sauntered along to well-researched articles in newspapers and magazines and academic dissertations of hundreds of type-written pages and then to shortened entries in Wikipedia and multi-paragraph posts on weblogs. And now, within the few months of Twitter’s existence, we’ve started to shutter books, newspapers, and now blogs in order to follow the disparate, tiny, yet seemingly content-rich 140-character posts of thousands of individuals.
(I do recognize that the economic models of news and news-gathering are changing quickly. But the logic of Twitter fits handily into the free-for-all of the Web’s user-driven, celebrity-focused current trajectory.)
If we continue down this path, it’s not hard to see what future, original text content will look like. Gone will be editing and editors, the smell of paper and ink, collaborative formats, multiple authoritative voices, and indexing of further reading topics. Gone will be investigative journalism, academic contextualization of events and ideas, and the production of complex thought pieces.
I don’t see the end of books or magazines, or blogs, per se. And I’m a big fan of Twitter, despite my massive reservations about its implications. But, with less long-form content being produced and digested, I can only assume that our brains will seek to emulate less the mind of gods and more the organs of birds.