280 Characters in Search of a Tweet

brevity is the soul of wit… – William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Twitter again. Now we can compose tweets of 280 characters on Twitter, double the previous limit. And I have to ask: why?

It might seem hypocritical to complain about an increased character limit when I recently wrote about the tendency of Twitter to make everyone want to have their hot take on the major issues of the day in 140 characters or fewer.

And yes, there are quite a few drawbacks to using Twitter as a vehicle for political commentary. But, the old character limit did at least force people to be creative. It made genuinely funny people come up with witty insights in just a few sentences. Even when dealing with big issues, it was useful to get to the heart of a matter (though my concern remains that too few people go beyond such pithy summaries).

Above all, it forced people to get to the point. I know only too well how easy it is to ramble when writing, and go off on tangents. But knowing you’ve only got 140 characters to work with really makes you think about what exactly you want to say.

But 280 characters: what’s the point? It’s not long enough to really go into detail about a topic, but too long to force you to be creative. I imagine that now Twitter will be filled with laboured jokes that are just a bit too long to be snappy. People will no longer be forced to trim the fat of their tweets so that only the best parts remain.

I don’t really mind though: I still don’t quite get Twitter, and don’t spend too long browsing it. But the increased character limit has got me thinking about brevity in writing in general. Despite the fact that I regularly write posts longer than 1,000 words, I still try to follow George Orwell’s advice and keep things as simple as I can. When I’m reviewing my posts, I usually end up shortening sentences. Sometimes I’ll add sentences to clarify some complex point, but I still try to keep those sentences straightforward.

There is one advantage to the new character limit for me at least: I can keep my rare tweets simple, but can afford to make sure they’re properly punctuated.

Isn’t the word character itself interesting by the way? Isn’t it strange that it can refer to a written symbol, as person in a fictional work, and personal qualities? The word comes from the Greek kharakter, meaning stamped mark, which is where the meaning of written symbol comes from. It later came to mean personal qualities as though such qualites were marks stamped on a person. The word then came to refer to characters in dramas, as they were defined by the primary characteristics given to them by the writer.

And now we’re mostly using the word to argue about how much character online characters can fill their tweets with in 280 characters.

14 thoughts on “280 Characters in Search of a Tweet

  1. I have yet to use the 240 limit–I can do what I need to and keep it concise. I always found it ironic that Orwell didn’t always follow his own rules. I wonder what he would have made of Twitter, but given his attitude regarding self-aggrandizement, I’m sure he would have hated it.

    Liked by 1 person

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