Wednesday 21 August 2013

Antidote to twitter

Not much room for a complex or extensive discourse in a tweet is there? Although I'll grant that there may be nuance in your 140 characters like there is in haiku.  The Blob's pageview stats indicate that virtually nobody follows up a link, so I suspect that many readers flit off to something more immediate before they get close to the end of my 500 words. It is after all about 20x longer than a tweet.  So one of my longer (800 words say?) posts must seem as daunting to twitterati as War and Peace (20,000 tweets) or all VI volumes of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (60,000 tweets) is to me. Nevertheless you can read such a post, which has often exhausted my interest and knowledge about whatever, in 4 minutes even reading aloud.

On 21 August 1858 the first of the Lincoln-Douglas debates was held in Ottawa, Illinois.  Abraham Lincoln (Republican; not yet President) and Stephen Douglas (Democrat), both candidates for a seat in the Senate, had agreed to a series of 7 debates in different congressional districts of Illinois.  The agreed format for each debate was that one candidate would speak for an hour, then the other man would hold forth for an hour and a half, finally ceding the floor to his opponent for a 30 minute wrap-up.  That's three hours of argument and rhetoric, passion and logic.  Much of the debate was taken up with the issue of slavery - this was just before the American Civil War - so you'd imagine that after 180 minutes (maybe 1500 tweets) they'd said everything that could be said by anyone on the matter.  You don't feel quite the same sense of finality after a US presidential debate in the present era when a red stop light comes on 2 minutes after anyone starts speaking.  No wonder candidates pay more attention to their tailors than to their speechwriters.  Sir/St. Thomas More wrote 500,000 words as a counterblast to William Tyndale's perceived heresies.  "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there" indeed! As Neil Postman said 30 years ago in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" - summary here - it's not when TV is full of idle fluff that we need to worry, it's rather when TV affects to be making a serious contribution.

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