Magazine | September 22, 2014, Issue

Look in the Mirror

All these columns are about some place! But this column is about the Twitterverse!

Twitterverse is no place! Its strings of words and spaces <140 characters! You see your margin shrink down as you type 3 2 1! And when you go over it starts ticking negative -1 -2 -3! But Twitterverse is also every place! I follow old friends whove moved cross country! I follow people who write in French or Latvian! I follow people who are complete strangers! We are family!

Everyone who uses Twitter has a little picture! Some use pictures of themselves others use logos cartoons! One tweeter uses the Girl with the Pearl Earring taking a selfie! If you don’t pick a picture Twitter depicts you looking like an egg! An uncreated soul! Pictures are how you know who youre talking to! Or how you don’t know who youre not talking to!

Twitter has no leader but it does have followers! If you want to see all of someones tweets you click Follow and you become that persons follower! Often they will follow you right back! Millions of followers no leaders! We are family!

Many tweets are retweets! If something struck you as interesting funny stupid you tweet it again to your followers! If you really like it you make it a favorite! Or you can reply praise jeer! Tweets can be links to longer items! Or just pictures! Because I am a historian I get a lot of historical pictures! The Beatles 1965! The War of 1812! Its all history the Beatles are more historical since more people know them!

Confession: I started this because of my publisher! I have a book out in October and my publisher wants me to do social media! I am a 13th century Russian peasant bringing in a crop and my liege lord wants me to ask Mongol horsemen help me harvest it! They gave me a sheet of options Facebook Pinterest God knows what! No eBay I guess thats for when the book is remaindered! I chose Twitter! In Twitter land Ill take my stand! My friend Sam tweeted me when I had 14 followers! He tweeted I remember when I had 14 followers Good times! Sam has a mordant turn of mind! Thats good for Twitter! I have more followers now though not as many as Sam or Rihanna!

We thought email was a new thing once! Remember those days! We thought blogging was a new thing once! Remember those days! Everyone would know everyone everywhere we are family! I wrote once for NR Dead Tree but it got posted online about a wedding between two young Army officers in the country! Id passed a sign LT X CAPT Y JUST MARRIED driving on a back road! A third young Army officer read the post in Mumbai and notified the couple! A bank shot off the other hemisphere! We are family!

But the Twitterverse makes email and blogs seem ancient! Email is like sending a love letter by the Rosenkavalier! Blogs are like In Search of Lost Time! Theyre both so old so more than 140 characters! Emailers and bloggers are like Jefferson and his two-pen writing machine! Like Sophocles hearing it long ago by the Aegean! Like the monks in the Gutenberg Tech Support sketch! If you haven’t seen it Ill tweet you the link!

Tweets are short because so many of them get done on devices! I still use a computer! Old old hey gramps how were the Beatles! But most tweets get done by kids with devices! You see them thumbing away as they walk down the street watch the Walk Dont Walk sign! You see them thumbing away as they sit in restaurants! When you use a Ouija board youre supposed to look in a mirror! When you have lunch with someone and both of you have devices youre supposed to look at your screen! When you go to confession priest and penitent are not supposed to see each other! When you have lunch with someone and both of you have devices youre not supposed to see each other only the Twitterverse! We are family! So thats why everything has to be short and sweet!

What effect does this have on punctuation! All these exclamation points here are inauthentic Im trying to capture the clickclick urgency! Twitter is tough on exclamation points! On all punctuation! If you only have 140 characters including spaces who needs semicolons! Who needs em dashes! Who needs this would be very Victorian the semicolon followed by an em dash! Rhythm and meaning have to take care of themselves!

One punctuation mark got a big second wind though the #! Just like the @ with email! I remember old typewriters with # and @ who ever used those! But now they rule the world while ; and  –  lie bleeding! # is greater than @ because @ is just a name a location! # can be an idea a cause! #Ferguson! #GiveBackOurGirls! An evil cause #GiveBackOurHumvees ISISs answer to #GiveBackOurGirls! All men are created equal or the Final Solution whatever fits!

What effect does Twitter have on words! I wont use Twitter abbreviations u ppl h8! Yh Twitterese for Yechh! But I do avoid Latinisms and those tough Saxon nuts like would and should! Should one syllable=six letters OMG!

What effect does Twitter have on dependent clauses! Extinction is what effect it has! Of mans first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world and all our woe with loss of! Sorry John and you havent even reached your subject yet! If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued! Mr President we have to speed this up here! And God said Let there be light: And there was light! That works! In the Twitterverse everyone writes like God! Or Hemingway!

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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