Monday, 7 February 2011

Tips for the Twitter-curious. 7: The Skill and Poetry of Twitter

Hi again.

Welcome to the final week of 'Tips for the Twitter-curious' - my last-ditch attempt to convince you all to give tweeting a go. OK, maybe not all of you ...

If I'd found a sure-fire way to brainwash everyone who reads my blog into my way of thinking ... I'd probably have used it for far more evil gains than tempting you onto the Twitter-side! Plus, if I haven't convinced you after the 6 posts I've written so far ... I doubt it's ever going to happen.

So this week I'm taking a more laid back approach rather than a full-on attempt to plead the case ... again.

Wednesday's post will have a bit of a fun end-of-term theme but I'm starting today by going into out and out, subjective, word-nerd mode by looking at how Twitter also satisifies my love of alll things language-y! So if Social Media analysis crossed with Literary Criticism isn't your thing ... you're just going to have to indulge me ...

It's a textbook case of 'form' influencing 'content' ... no, seriously, bear with me ... it is!!
l haven't [yet] researched into the development of Twitter and why they decided to set the '140 characters' per message rule. Therefore I'm not sure how far the developers were aware of the impact that this structure was going to have on the atmosphere on the site. But it is that space-limit which, to my mind, has most certainly had the biggest influence over what gets written and how it is received.

So... the Form ...
As we know, the form consists of short, 140 character messages, the approximate length of an average sentence.

Influences the Content ...
So, what are you going to be able to write in that space? It's not going to be a major thesis is it?

By the nature of their form your Tweets ...

  • Cannot be an in depth, formal look at anything;
  • Have no room for the usual niceties of polite conversation - who has room to waste five of the 140 characters to spell out 'Dear_'?!
  • Probably won't be too personal - as, unless you protect your tweets, you are aware of the potential for anyone to see what you've written.

Therefore an informal conversational [rather than true-confessional] style has developed to suit the form we are restricted to writing in. So what?

Remember back to my initial 'Tweet or not To Tweet?' post where I practically marched you up to Twitter's house by the scruff of your neck, knocked on it's door for you and demanded you join up so you could keep in contact with people you miss? Well, it was this lovely, easy, informal style which people seem to naturally fall into while on there that made me want to spread the word so emphatically!

As I mentioned before, I don't suggest that once on twitter you'll never email or meet-up with a friend ever again! But it's speed and style make it such an accessible way for you to offer people a quick 'in' to your personality ... and you to theirs.

It's very much like being in the same room as someone you're comfortable with and then 'thinking out loud' to them!
Do you know what I mean? It's how you act with loved ones and friends isn't it?

You say those random things which, while mainly being entirely pointless ... add to the particular 'you-ness' that other people come to know/love about you. It most often happens when they're in your actual physical company and they get to see all sides of 'you'.

But, if you can't be together some of these 'moments-of-you' can go missing as they're often the kind of thing you'd never dream of writing down in an email and sending out to your entire address book!

Case in point .... here's something entirely random I'd had on my mind which I ended up 'tweeting-out-loud':

I don't know ... maybe that is slightly too much information about me for some of my Followers ... but for others? Well, maybe they felt like they got a bit more 'Julie-ness' from it!

And, be rest assured, Joel McHale's nose's place in my affections is not often the kind of thing I send news of to my email contacts ...

OK then, now we've all got that clear ... let's move away from the informal qualities Twitter nurtures so well ... and go on to look at other kinds of writing which suit the same form.

A bit more highbrow than my 'nose' tweet!

The short form is also a great medium through which to read and share quotations:

There are hundred of accounts dedicated to all kinds of quotes so there's bound to be something which appeals to you amongst them. Whether you go on make art / journal / scrapbook etc based on a quote you find there or whether you simply read and absorb them for their own worth ... it's a great way [as I keep stating] to have inspirational things come and seek you out!

Similarly, a tweet's the perfect length for interesting definitions, such as these from @wordspy:

According to its Twitter-bio @wordspy is "devoted to "lexpionage," the sleuthing of new words and phrases" ... which naturally gets me rather excited too! [However, while love that definition of the 'Velcro dog' ... I prefer mine non-stick ... and 100 metres away.]

Finally, pithy philosophical words are also an ideal size for tweeting and you can find pretty much any philosopher you like on there ... including the long deceased. I don't think they run their own accounts though ...

One of my consistently favourite philosophical figures I enjoy seeing in my Twitter Timeline is [the late]Tommy Howells:

His bio explains that he was "A teacher, thinker, and friend at Whitman College from 1938 through 1987. Here you'll find quotes recorded by his students during class." And I believethe Twitter account is run by his son, who wanted to pass his father'swords on.

I honestly can't remember how or where I discovered this account, probably on one of my Follower-hopping escapades, but it just shows how there's hidden gems out there just waiting to be Followed and have their words and thoughts reach a wider audience.

So - if you're still with me ... - we've looked at a few ways in how the form of Twitter has effected the use and how it suits other pre-existing writing forms ie. definitions and quotations.

Now let's look at a unique way in which tweeters have begun giving old punctuation marks a new meaning in a particular method which I remember baffling me when I first began!

The world of Twitter's a stage ...
The super-short writing form has spawned the everday use of something equivalent to written stage-directions you'd usually only see in the manuscript of a play.

Let's start with our old friend '#' - the hashtag we first met back in
Lesson 4. Besides being used to tag tweets of a similar topic, they are also used like an 'aside' - an extra on top of their dialogue in the play, additional words spoken directly into the audience.

Such as this:

There was just no room in this tweets for me to explain that when I saw the intriguingly labelled truck - called Julie - I wondered whehter those care-instructions could be applied to me too! So I squashed it all into a hashtag aside.

It's really hard for me to explain these sufficiently ... so just keep your eyes open for when you see such a thing being used .. or give it a go yourself. It's basically another way to condense everything you wanted to convey into that tiny white space!

And so is the stage-direction format which has taken to involving '*' asterisks. Author @maureenjohnson is great at using them to create a feeling that you're inside her daily life's story:

Again, there's no room to fully describe what you're trying to act out in your tweet ... so people have taken to indicating actions by surrounding them with asterisks. eg. right now my actions would read: *tries to make sense while describing odd, yet fun, new uses for punctuation*.

And while this all might seem very alien if you're not using Twitter yet .. DON'T LET IT PUT YOU OFF! It's really not necessary to use them ... it's just something I find fascinating and wanted to bring up today.

*returns to her rightful place behind a book*.

In conclusion #becauseallproperessayshavetohaveone ...

Tweets are often informal by nature - not just in their content. But equally, it's a form which can easily, and rightly, be exploited to indulge in a love of words and language.

Ironically I could also have written, at length, about how much I enjoy the process of editing my thoughts down by trimming and snipping at an overweight sentence until it fits into such a tiny space ... but I'll spare you that essay ... for today anyway!

  1. If words are your thing ... have a look for some of your favourite writers to see if they have an account. Chances are they'll tweet in the style you've come to love.
  2. Begin following a few quote accounts;
  3. Have a go at using the # hashtag to fit more into a tweet;
  4. Give your Followers an indication of an action by using the ** asterisk method;

OK then, I think that's a long enough English Language seminar for you to have sat through for one day!

If you've fallen asleep at the back I promise that Wednesday's post will be lighter and shorter! But also more weird ...

See you then then!

Julie - @notesonpaper


  1. Love this post.
    It's very you.
    *gives Julie a big squeeze*

    Thank you for converting me to the world of Twitter, I have become a discipline to your cause trying to convert others at work.
    P.S some of my students are following your class too. Maybe you should come in and do a face to face session. ;-)

  2. i am still sharing your class on my magazine...i have loved every minute and gotten such a different perspective...XOXOX

  3. Twitter started as SMS service so restricted messages to the 140 characters text messages used to be able to handle.

    Memes are a great source for wordplay - they tend to work on puns.


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