Is America doomed to sing the 140-character blues?

Is America doomed to sing the 140-character blues?

Summary: Could we have created a Declaration of Independence, a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, or a Gettysburg Address in today's world?


I have a colleague who seems to have rewired his brain to process all information as if they were tweets.

He's a very capable professional, as long as no single communication exceeds 140 characters. He also can't handle more than 2 msgs per day

Anything communicated to him that passes those limits simply winds up in limbo. It could be an important detail that might determine whether

If he needs to learn background about anything, it needs to be in tweet-sized chunks, or he won't accept it. Sometimes he gets frustrated th

Yet, if he doesn't get the information he needs to do his job, or that co-workers are depending on him for, he gets upset, wondering why the

He is not alone. More & more people filter out all but the first sentence because they have so much noise-filled information coming at them.

They think in tweets and Facebook posts. They LOL at anything that's TLDR. If you can't fit it into a text, it must not really be important.

But I worry about a society too busy to read, raised on YouTube, and educated with Twitter and Facebook. I worry that we won't think through

Some concepts can be communicated briefly. The entire Constitution of the United States is only 4600 words.

It seems we've gone to extremes. On the one hand, there's the health care act that takes thousands of pages. On the other we have tweets.

As our future becomes more complex, with threats to our freedoms more real and more subtle, our perspective has shrunk to 140-byte chunks.

* * *

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it become

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the c

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of sp

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposi

* * *

Could we have created a Declaration of Independence, a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, or a Gettysburg Address in today's world?


Topic: Social Enterprise


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • roflmao ...

    ... tff (too ________ funny) ...
    (Nice point btw ...)

    • What did you say!

  • Got a laugh

    I did get a real laugh out of this, although I don't think things are quite as dire as you may see them. In many many fields of expertise, there are still long documents written, and communications that exceed a twitter-type exchange.

    I really wonder how your colleague is still employed if he can only accept two tweet sized inputs a day. In my experience, we are constantly getting inputs, in person/voice, over the phone, by text, email, etc. My employer would most likely can me if I limited input to two such messages a day during the work day.
    • It's all about QUALITY not Quantity

      The so called HealthCare Act or ObamaCare is a poorly written and huge document that not even Congress has read. I would rather have 4600 words describe our God given rights than a few million taking them away. I agree that 140 or less is a bit ridiculous but I don't think it means that anything longer has any greater quality of content.
      • Naturally...'ve read it and know from experience how badly written it is.
        John L. Ries
  • It took me a second to understand....

    ...why your sentences were incomplete. They're all no more than 140 chars in length! Nice!!!!
  • I think so

    Some of the talkbacks here are quite long.
    John L. Ries
  • 140 character blues

    no they dont have the balls for it
  • In an age of 1,000 page healthcare bills...

    ...I'm not too worried, David. The Obamacare bill weighed in at 906 pages and 425,116 words. The healthcare regulations written because of Obamacare come to 1,147,271 words SO FAR.

    Compared to Obamacare, the Declaration that freed us from the chains of tyranny and the Constitution that set our entire republic in motion MAY AS WELL HAVE BEEN TWEETS!

    Personally, I'm all for the tongue-in-cheek "Twitter Amendment" which would limit all legislation to 140 characters, thus limiting the destructive power of our congress! It would definitely make Supreme Court rulings on legislation easier too!
    • Some of the state constitutions are overly long as well

      The California and Alabama constitutions are particularly bad reading.
      John L. Ries
    • Very well put!

      I think Franklin and Jefferson would approve 140 character law limits as a way to curb a destructive government!
      • 140 characters is a bit extreme

        Requiring that bills be read in full three times on different days in each house (no ability to dispense with the readings) would work much better.

        Yet in theory, most legislative houses require unanimous consent to dispense with readings, allowing any member to force any proposal to be read in full.
        John L. Ries
      • Single Issue Legislation.

        One issue at a time period. No amendments allowed sneaking in pork projects and no amendments allowed that trample on our Constitutional Rights.

        Enumerated Powers law passed once and for all.

        Wishful thinking I know.
        Hatestone Johnson
  • twitter?

    Don't know why anyone even bothers with twitter, basically useless. I'm not worried about the future though because to get ahead in life you have to actually communicate with people in person or on the phone (you know that part of the smart device you carry but don't use). Though I do like the idea of limiting politicians to 140 characters (per day I hope).
    • Yeah, I barely bother with twitter at all.

      Yeah, I barely bother with twitter at all. I follow a couple people, but that's about it. I don't actively tweet at all.

      I really don't see the point of twitter at all. There are so many other social networks out there that are so much better.
  • New media, same old problem.

    We've had the 30 second max soundbite for decades. This is no different. Those who can't handle more will be judged inferior and uninformed by those who can. Enterprise will sort accordingly and will cope. The big problem area is public policy, where voters who can only handle a slogan in 140 characters hold equal influence with those who can and do dig deeper.

    Of course, the only 140 char limit remaining is Twitter. If your phone or provider limits your texts to 140, you need a new phone or provider.
    • The issue is that this is becoming the standard.

      Most people want it tweet-sized, otherwise it "takes too long" and they go off on the next thing. Actually researching issues is becoming more rare; most people on all sides are just repeating sound-bytes or tweets without real thinking or analyzation of their own.
    • When a politican speaks...

      You only need to listen to the first few words. After that it is all the same.

      Digging deeper doesn't always produce better decission. There are plenty of people who refused to hear anything but their own opinion.
      Richard Flude
      • Actually, you can learn a lot about a politician... getting past the sound bites. I don't know if they have such a thing in the N.Z. Parliament, but I find U.S. Congressional special orders a great way to find out what particular members are like; including how much they know, what they care about, which ones really believe what they're saying, which don't, and which you hope they don't.

        I like autobiographies of historical figures for the same reason; the authors always end up saying a lot more about themselves than they really intend (I'm working on Mark Twain's now).
        John L. Ries
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    How do i vote up an article? :)
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