Unable to contain his hatred for all things of the twenty-first century, Jonathan Franzen hates Twitter now. He has dismissed it as “the ultimate irresponsible medium” and, in doing so, dismissed the millions of users who enjoy tweeting. But I think he’s missed the point of tweeting. I think tweeting can actually encourage better writing.
Franzen’s problem is the 140 character limit. He claims that “it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters”. It is hard, because you have a small space in which to convey your meaning. But this encourages Twitter users to be concise. And writers who can be concise are one step ahead.
Our first efforts at expression are often disorganised. We write more than we have to. We add extraneous elements. We track back because we forgot something. Cutting out these extraneous words and ideas makes our prose lean. It removes the deviations and repetitions that can irritate a reader and it makes our prose easier to read.
Being concise also encourages creativity. When you write a tweet and it comes to 150 characters, it requires a creative thought process to lose ten characters without losing the meaning.
In short, Twitter can help train the mind to write well.
Franzen doesn’t have to be a fan of Twitter. He’s free to dislike it if he so wishes. But dismissing it as merely “irritating” demonstrates a short-sighted unwillingness to engage new tools and technology. Using Twitter won’t make a writer better. But it will encourage their thoughts in a more concise direction. Surely that can only be a good thing?