While Twitter has become a wildly popular new means of communication, it has not been without its critics. Questions like, “What can we say that is meaningful in 140 characters?” and “What are we losing by keeping our social interactions so brief?” have abounded since Twitter’s inception. The value of brevity, however, is not a new concept. In the late 19th and early 20th century, one of the most efficient ways to transmit important information rapidly over great distances was the telegram.
Telegram authors had an incentive to be brief – most telegram companies charged per word. As a result, authors took some common shortcuts used in the Twitterverse such as dropping pronouns and articles and using abbreviations and code words to maximize information and minimize characters. So forced brevity in communications isn’t really a new concept at all. In fact, telegrams were often used to convey life-changing news-births, deaths, war, and peace-in as few words as possible. Imagine finding out that a loved one has died in a Tweet, or worse, receiving a telegram of import redacted to the point of ambiguity. From that perspective, the criticisms of Twitter seem unnecessary, or at least, unoriginal.
In light of their similarities, I have taken the liberty to translate some famous telegrams into TweetSpeak.
Telegram: What hath God wrought?
Tweet: OMG, WTF?!?
Telegram: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.
Twitter: totally still alive! #YOLO
William Randolph Hearst
Telegram: You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.
Tweet: Post pix to ur instagram and Ill take it from there
Telegram: Successful four flights Thursday morning.
Tweet: w00t! Successful flight! No pix though, had to turn off phone in the air. 😦
Bruce Ismay, Officer on the SS Carpathia
Telegram: Deeply regret advise your Titanic sunk this morning fifteenth after collision iceberg resulting serious loss life further particulars later. Bruce Ismay.
Tweet: unsinkable ship sank. #irony