Concise writing has been a challenge for me since the beginning of college. As a PR major, I find myself constantly having to get to the point.
There it is. These two sentences are my 140 characters. These 140 characters summarize my college career to this moment. I was going to explain how I find writing assignments difficult because of the word count or page limit. I was going to express my distaste for when professors ask me to summarize my thoughts in a sentence, paragraph, or if I’m lucky, a page. I was going to say I’m usually a concise writer, but I sometimes struggle to summarize my thoughts in a cohesive manner. But I couldn’t get there in 140 characters. And this is the 140 character conflict.
Twitter has become one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. Anyone can create a Twitter account and publish their inner thoughts for the world to see. But there’s a catch. There are only 140 characters to express one’s opinions. And that is where popular does not mean effective. The moment Twitter requires people to minimize their views to 140 characters is when messages become lost in translation.
I recently wanted to tweet about my positive customer service experience at Hertz. Every employee was helpful, and this was a refreshing customer service experience for me. I would’ve loved to thank each employee who helped me along the way, but I was shortened to, “Customer service by @Hertz was absolutely incredible. Refreshing to have a positive experience.” How does this help Hertz? They don’t know where I picked up my car or to which agents I spoke, and neither these offices nor these agents will know I took the time to express my thoughts online. No, in the grand scheme, my one experience does not describe the existential crisis of the world but it does explain the 140 character conflict.
Let’s take a look at Syracuse professor Dana Cloud. At a recent protest, she tweeted, “We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off.” I am not commenting on the matter of the protest nor the professor’s personal beliefs, but what I want to comment on is her word choice. People criticized this tweet for inciting violence. I can’t help but wonder if Professor Cloud would’ve used a different sentiment if Twitter hadn’t limited her character count. Again, the 140 character conflict.
Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud said in an email to students he would not discipline Professor Cloud because she was exercising freedom of speech. Does this imply that Twitter limits freedom of speech when it limits its character count? No, it’s simply confirming that Twitter has a fatal flaw: the 140 character conflict.
Over the years, my Twitter presence has decreased as my thoughts have matured. I realize the complexity of certain issues, and I do not think 140 characters will ever be enough to exercise my opinions. As I said, concise writing is a challenge for me, I sometimes struggle to get to the point.