By POONAM GUPTA, columnist
Edgar Allen Poe may have been the father of short stories, but this century’s famed celebrities have him beat—by approximately four thousand words. At 140 characters per tweet, Twitter has become the new short story. Everyone from Justin Bieber to the Dalai Lama can voice his or her opinions in short snippets of moving, inspirational, or masterfully witty thoughts. But why are these tweets so memorable? Quite simply, it’s because they’re faster and easier to read. A short story is categorized as something one can read in a single sitting—but in that same sitting, one can speed through thousands of Twitter statuses.
Twitter was originally used to follow the whereabouts of famous people. If Mariah Carey was opening a can of Diet Pepsi, we would know about it. However, Twitter users now put more time into constructing witty blurbs or starting status wars with other users. Celebrities such as Katy Perry and Jennifer Lopez retain huge followings, along with conglomerates such as Taco Bell and even Walmart.
And Twitter isn’t just used by celebrities attempting to make humorous social commentaries. Joel Stein of Time magazine recently wrote an article discussing his interest in organizing his fellow Tweeters into a “Twunion”: he felt that Twitter exploited his talents and that he and others in his situation needed compensation for their work. He compared his statuses to his articles in Time and his book, observing that he has more followers than copies of his book sold. So are Twitter statuses akin to great writing? Clearly certain aspects of literature don’t translate well into this medium—like plotlines, extended metaphors, and complex imagery —but the prevalence of the use of tweets in a literary or creative fashion should be noted.
This popularity results in part from the ease with which tweets provide us with valuable information. Being worldly, sophisticated, and up-to-date on contemporary events used to mean reading lengthy newspaper articles, magazine pieces, and even books on current affairs. Today, a simple scroll through the Twitter news feed and a look at the trending topics seems to suffice. Similarly, it takes just seconds to deduce from Joel Stein’s tweet, “If we’re in a National Park before the government closes at midnight, do we own that park?” that the government has shut down. Why bother reading entire pages or watching full-length cable news programs when information is so quickly digestible through Twitter?
This leads us to Twitter’s greatest contribution toward communication: all the unnecessary length is gone. In those 140 words, ideas are expressed, opinions are voiced, and personalities are born. It truly is the most ideal way to communicate in today’s fast-paced day and age. With everyone barely making time to sit down for more than a few minutes at a time, concise statuses are the best way to entertain and inform.
In a way, it’s as if sitting down and reading has become obsolete. Because it can give us instant gratification, Twitter has made it increasingly difficult for us to maintain focus for a long time. Cell phones allow us direct communication, DVR gives us quick access to television shows, and internet feeds us direct information. Similarly, Twitter statuses provide followers instant and uncomplicated entertainment, while also providing “writers” with a chance to express themselves without having to elaborate.
This is in no way condemning the value of reading and literature. But in our digital age, people need outlets for creativity, and Twitter is the most accessible resource for doing just that. Even the prevalence of conventional blogging can’t compare to the popularity of Twitter. It is not only at the disposal of our fingertips, but it also forces us to shorten our thoughts. Does this interfere with our ability to think in long phrases? Quite possibly, but it also gives everyone from your neighbor to your favorite celebrity the chance to glimpse into others’ lives.