To Tweet or Not to Tweet

June 17, 2013 — 25 Comments

platypusI have a twitter account I’ve never used. I had attended a ministry conference where the featured speaker encouraged all of the pastors to harness the power of this cutting edge technology.

I dutifully returned home, established an account, and realized there were very few things I wanted to say in 140 characters or less. One hundred and forty words . . . now you’re talking. But a mere seven score letters . . . I don’t think so.

I know there are many positive things about brevity. In our hectic world, it’s become an absolute necessity. Still, some things—to be expressed more clearly and (dare I say it, “entertainingly”)—demand more than two and a half sentences.

I was recently reading an article entitled “Tweets Before Twitter,” and it gave me cause to reconsider the prospect of using twitter to share worthwhile ideas. It described “ingenious brevity inspired 150 years ago by telegrams. . . . when people had to pay as much as $1 per Morse-coded word to dispatch a cable overseas, only a robber baron could afford to be loquacious.”

Now, that’s a sobering thought, especially since one of the dollars of that era would likely translate into about $214.17 today (by rough estimate). With that incentive, many telegraphs employed cryptic shorthand similar to the increasingly familiar terminology of the tweetworld.

However, one example they cited was different. It did not rely on learning a new language of contemporary abbreviations. Instead, it appealed to a much older language, Latin. Here’s the example they reported.

Monotremes oviparous, ovum meroblastic.

Translation: In the 19th century one of the greatest scientific debates was whether the platypus laid eggs, a fact that zoologist William Hay Caldwell was finally able to confirm in 1884. Here he uses Latin to cable his discovery from Australia to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Since Latin had words for high-level scientific concepts, Caldwell could condense an entire paper into one brief sentence, letting colleagues know that platypus embryos develop like birds instead of mammals.

If I could remember the Latin I studied back in high school . . . And, if the people I was tweeting could read what I was saying . . . I just might reconsider my decision not to tweet. But I regard that event highly unlikely.

For now I’ll remain more than content to post a couple of times a week to Mere Inkling, in the hopes that a few of my words prove helpful or entertaining.

Finally, although the great unknown of platypus parenting was discovered in 1884, I’ve been pondering another mystery of the Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Why was it, that C.S. Lewis failed to include these wondrous creatures in Narnia? Perhaps it was because their semi-aquatic nature meant they would be of little value in the battles that marked the events recorded in the Chronicles? I have little doubt that despite the absence of their mention, Narnia’s waters teemed with their frolicking duck bills, otter feet and beaver tails.

25 responses to To Tweet or Not to Tweet

  1. 

    Well, this would make a great tweet: “I realized there were very few things I wanted to say in 140 characters or less.”
    You can follow me at @BrentonDana!

  2. 

    I like the idea of tweeting in Latin… of course I don’t know it either. If you want to make your twitter account useful you could use it to publicize your blog post.

    • 

      That’s a good suggestion about “redeeming” my twitter account.

      As for using Latin, now you’ve got me thinking that we could all just use it, even though none of us understand it, just like the nonsense lorem ipsum text we use as placeholder text in various places. There’s even a free lorem ipsum generator on the internet in case you want it to spew out some Latin gibberish!

  3. 

    Love this blog, Rob. And I suspect there were many wonderful creatures in Narnia we know not of.

    Also, we may as well Tweet Latin gibberish from the lorem ipsum generator. It would blend right in with most stuff on the twittersphere already.

  4. 

    Tweeting in Latin. There’s something I’ve never considered! I’ve only had two years, though, and we focused on reading it, not writing it, so I don’t think I’m that good. ;)

    After holding out for a long time, I finally set up a Twitter account for our blog. On one hand, I do feel more connected to some of our followers. It has also increased our follower count, since WordPress counts followers. This could be useful if I ever wanted to ask publishers for ARCs–something I haven’t really done yet.

    However, I agree it’s hard to say much that is meaningful on Twitter. All the most interesting conversations I have gotten into on Twitter have been very difficult to hold because I couldn’t really say anything.

    Also, from our WordPress stats, it’s clear that hardly anyone clicks from Twitter to actually visit our blog and our posts. Perhaps two people a day.

    I’d say Twitter has its uses, but you’re not really missing out.

    • 

      Thanks for the analytical insights. It confirms my gut feeling.

      And as for only reading Latin, that’s probably best for most of us. I suspect Roman Catholic priests are about the only folks speaking it (well, perhaps Classicists too, at their rare gatherings). From your gender, Briana, I imagine the former setting is not applicable, which leaves Classical Studies. Sadly, if you and your blog partner Krysta are Americans, that’s a pretty small community.

      Anyway, I appreciate the insights.

      • 

        According to my Classics professors, not even they can speak it. Apparently there’s an annual conference somewhere in the U.S. where people are supposed to go and talk Latin the whole time, but a lot of people aren’t very good at it. Since it’s the only time they actually do it.

      • 

        I remember Roman reenactors in England using Latin, but I’m sure it was limited to a handful of military commands (e.g. “attention,” “at ease,” and “clean the latrine”).

  5. 

    If you still check your Twitter account at all you can follow C. S. Lewis. :-)
    Love the telegram comparison. A lot of people complain about how we’re becoming a “soundbite” culture, but things like carpe diem go back way before modern media.
    Brevity is the soul of wit.
    Plus, most people hook you in to check their blog using shortlinks.
    I wouldn’t give up on Twitter if you have something like HootSuite to schedule tweets. you’ll probably collect an extra following (if you ever plan on writing a book or something like I do) and new people will see posts you wrote ages ago as if they were brand new.

    • 

      I’d heard there was a Lewis quotation service. That would actually be worth subscribing to. I think you’re right about being able to add an occasional subscriber to Mere Inkling via the entree of tweets. Just have to find the extra time…

  6. 

    I also created a twitter account once upon a time, but have never tweeted and have no desire to tweet…lol. My life is loaded with quite enough social media and real life stuff I have to do that twitter feels like overload to me.

  7. 

    Ha! Ha! My husband and I were just talking last night about how (not really) useful his study of Latin in school has become to his real life. I studied French, which only serves to aid in helping me learn a little bit of Spanish (the second language that would be most helpful for me to know). I only use Twitter to publicize my blog posts and occasionally follow news as it’s happening. The day I found Twitter most helpful was this year’s Boston Marathon. Because I follow athletes and sports organizations that were right at the bombing site, I learned more faster than I would have otherwise.
    When I worked in corporate America, I often had to write company or product descriptions for tradeshows that were 100 or 125 characters. Maybe my resistance to tweeting has to do with it reminding me of those days of trying to figure out the puzzle of what to say in so few characters. Thanks for your post. I look forward to reading future posts about whether you “redeem” your account.

    • 

      Languages… I just don’t have the aptitude to easily grasp them. Studied Spanish in junior high, thought it was challenging, Latin in high school (which made Spanish seem like a breeze), Greek in college (which made me long for Latin), and Hebrew at seminary (which made Greek seem easy by comparison… although I’ve known people who had the reverse experience). Studied all of those languages, and the best I ever got was “okay.” And, for me at least, they atrophy pretty quickly. I envy those who grasp languages easily.

      • 

        I think for most of us, languages atrophy quickly when we don’t use them. I minored in math in college (a sort of foreign language, I think), and it left me about as quickly as the French I had studied. Your progression of language learning is impressive, and your description of each made me laugh. Thanks! Merci! Gracias! Danke!

      • 

        You’re right about math being another language (as my struggle with it reinforces). I’ve read articles about how it uses the same portions of the brain, and a facility with either suggests an aptitude with the other.

  8. 

    Fun post. Morse code…interesting you thought of that…once again the more things change, the more we keep circling back?
    Tweets are so over? except for birds’ brains? (sorry, had to do it)
    Thanks for the thoughts and smiles

    • 

      How’s this for re-circling? Coincidental to my post, it was just announced that India will send the very last telegram in the world next month!

      Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (India’s state-run telecommunications company) has been losing more than $23 million a year by keeping their telegraph services running. (Western Union sent its final United States telegram in 2006.)

  9. 

    I used to think blogging was egotistical! Well, I was wrong! I’ve learned a lot and made friends through blogging. So I’m probably wrong about tweeting, too, but I’m kind of with you. Maybe it’s the celebrities using it that puts me off!

    • 

      Wait just one minute–some of us most certainly are egotistical!

      Seriously, I believe you’ve unveiled one of my subconscious reasons for disliking twitter. I usually do seem to encounter it mainly in the form of news reports mentioning less than brilliant celebrity tweets!

      • 

        It’s so funny, I just read this morning in the newspaper that researchers have discovered that narcissists use Facebook and Twitter a lot. Doh! Older ones use FB and younger ones use Twitter. You’re off the hook–they didn’t mention bloggers! :)

      • 

        Wow, shocking, but not surprising news. Guess I’ll just take refuge in the fact that while most narcissists love social media, most social media users aren’t narcissists. We do, however, live in a terribly narcissistic age. God bless the introverts… their natural orientation gives them some immunity to this problem.

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