Twittergate: Less Is Not More
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 11:09
Take the best term paper you ever wrote, and try to make it 140 characters long.
I admit — in fact, I boast — that I don’t use Twitter. Never have, never will; nary a tweet shall escape these keys. It’s not that I’m against social networking. I really can’t condemn most people for keeping their exciting trip to the pottery store so brief. My issue with Twitter is that it has become a popular tool of politicians even though tweeting is about the worst thing you can do for government.
Twitter, by nature promotes the idea that anything can be said in 140 characters or less. Even if that were true for most things, it is certainly false when it comes to politics.
Twitter forces politicians to take complex ideas on the economy and foreign policy, and boil it down to fragments and abbreviations with twelve percent less space than you get on a standard text message.
Take, for example, one of Governor Sarah Palin’s tweets from earlier this month: “America’s kids are going to be stuck paying for Obama’s Empty Chair Style of Leadership.”
No facts to back it up, no examples to speak of, but hey, it fits!
Oversimplification is a huge part of the problem with the political process today. The issues of government require detailed understanding and an ability to comprehend nuance; very rarely is an issue black and white, and even if it is to one person, it probably isn’t to another.
Twitter is a giveaway to “oh snap!” one-liners and clever expressions when the challenges that we face cannot be summed up so succinctly. Governing is hard, and the debates that stem from it should be given the time they deserve, so that every argument can be heard and judged in its entirety.
It’s bad enough that cable news limited the amount of coverage of the national conventions a few weeks ago, or that newspapers have to give column inches to celebrity nonsense when they could be talking about the economy. Yet, when politicians have to chop their views into tweet-able bits just so they’ll be seen, we’re getting exactly what we’re asking for: a very, very, tiny piece of the story.
Twitter on its own isn’t the whole problem. Its creation was merely an opportunity to capitalize on an already growing trend of keeping things simple enough to be said in two seconds. Still, it’s certainly not fixing the problem.
People need to become not only re-engaged in their government, but willing to hear more than the latest headline. Am I saying that everything needs to be explained in terms longer than 140 characters? Pretty much.
Of course, there are exceptions. Basic facts can certainly be a sentence or two long. However, when it comes to most things that state legislatures and Congress have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, making ideas short for the sake of convenience is the wrong way to do business.
Or, as I would have had to put it if I were tweeting:
“No cntxt & dtail = wrng way 2 gvrn. Ppl must understand all of issues, not tiny bits. Tweets make USA laziness worse. Simpler not = better!”
Jonathan Tomczak is a junior political science and history double major.