I admit, I’m a bit of a technological disaster. Electronic things confound me. Of course, such a pronouncement doesn’t say all that much, considering this little tidbit: I can’t open jars very easily. Technology: super fast computers, blue tooth devices, smartphones, wireless connections, facetime, digital recordings, and lest we forget, SOCIAL MEDIA – these ultra-modern ‘conveniences’ are, well, convenient. But. Are we sacrificing something crucial for our conveniences? (I continually remind my students to avoid asking ‘yes or no’ questions of text. There I go, breaking my own rule.)
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – these means of communicating instantaneously with followers, friends and ‘board keepers’ – make it possible to put our thoughts out there (Okay, blogging too…) for others to share. The other day I reviewed, again, the limits of the master ‘tweet’ – it can only contain 140 characters, and that includes the spaces and punctuation. By design and necessity then, tweets are short, and often, to be fair, sweet. Facebook permits quite a few more characters, comparatively. Still, space remains limited, forcing fewer words to convey meaningful thought. On that point, a free tip: ‘just ate a PB&J. now off to workout and then later, shopping!’ is NOT meaningful thought. It would suffice as a permitted tweet or status update – only 50 characters! – but what’s the point? So, I got to thinking about Charles Dickens. (Of course, I did – who wouldn’t?)
Now, the tweet cannot exceed 140 characters. My 50 character sample post consists of twelve measly words. One of the greatest sentences in the entire English novel world begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” This opening to A Tale of Two Cities continues unabated until 119 words precede the end mark, a period. This one sentence is composed of 612 characters. It would never be tweet worthy. Admittedly, Dickens was an extraordinary wordsmith (and his work was often published serially AND he was paid by the word), whose like we won’t see again. Still. His words painted vivid, technicolor landscapes filled with unforgettable characters living significant lives that we REMEMBER , and ideas that MATTER. (if you haven’t read any Dickens lately, or worse, EVER – go treat yourself to a feast.)
Tweets are posted and forgotten. According to the Twitter blog site, halfway through 2011 over 2 MILLION tweets daily were being posted. Fascinating. Tweets are useful, amusing, provocative and valuable. I can always find links to great articles penned (okay, keyed) by significant thinkers who are interested in literacy, policy, politics, faith, education – the list is long, and the worth is incalculable.
But story invites us to imagine, consider, reflect, and even change. Information alone rarely attains such lofty heights. The world of tweets and status updates may be replaced by a whole new array of technological advances that change, once again, the information landscape. But as long as we have breath, we will, please God, demand a story. His story is the best one. And all of life – every novel, every poem, every essay and every drama for the stage – is reminding us of that story – who we are, who we want to be and who we must never become because of who He is. Dickens closes his Tale in part with these words: “and I hear him tell the child my story” – a story of revolution, love and sacrifice that leaves a mark no tweet could even imprint upon us.
May we all be a bit more Dickensian in our expressions of meaningful thought. Let the birds tweet. Let us, who have been given the gift of language and reason, use them both wisely. Richly. Indeed, that will be the ‘best of times.’