Let me start with a small example. Last night I updated Facebook riding home from the gym: Colorful girls laughing it up on the 1 train. Loving their energy, but tourist woman glancing up nervously, cautiously. Aw. They won't hurt u. I was really moved by the girls and then startled by the out-of-towner's fear. I felt the urge to express it, and my iPhone was already in my hand.
But nobody reads facebook updates that ramble on. So I trimmed it way back. Before I posted, I flipped over to Twitter and pasted it in there. Still too long. Eighty characters over. I whittled it down again.
Twitter tolerates no over-runs, so I had to slice out the second word of "glancing up" in my tweet. Just could not find two other characters to sacrifice during that short ride. But I was satisfied.
Two minutes later, a Facebook friend that I don't think I've actually met responded:
Subway Haiku !
Kinda ! LOVE IT !!! Huh. I liked that.
Poetry is hard for me. Perhaps I had to be tricked into even a passing approximation. I'm not planning to publish my tweets as verse, but I have felt it helping my writing.
Those 140 characters are unforgiving. I'm forced to do what I ought to anyway: examine every word, phrase and sentence: which details are essential here? Can they be conveyed more concisely? Yes. Always.
I keep hearing chicken little linguists squawking about gadgets and social networks destroying the language. Seems really simplistic. We're adapting it, for sure, and rapidly. So what?
True, it's hard to express complex ideas in 140 characters. It's hard to express them at a cocktail party, a boardroom or even a large meeting, much of the time. Do we speak in long paragraphs in ordinary conversation? Rarely.
But we have complicated thoughts and they build inside us until we find a situation where we can express them. Our brains find an outlet. This idea that the gadget controls us--I don't buy it.
What I do feel is my own brain exercising new muscles. Brevity can be a good thing. It's hard to write short. The gadgets are keeping me in shape.