Twitter Is the New Haiku

Are short bursts of information their own art form?
Dick costolo LEAD.jpg

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Some social-media naysayers make the accusation that conversations held in 140 characters lack depth and thoughtfulness. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, however, sees this kind of communication as a new art form. During an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Saturday, he argued that short bursts of information like tweets open up new avenues for creativity. Of course, the CEO of Twitter would think this, but he raises an interesting point: Just like a sonnet tells a story differently than a limerick, do social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Vine deserve their own category of communication?

Costolo explained it like this:

Sometimes I get asked, 'Don't you feel that the 140 characters has meant that people don't think about things deeply anymore?' The reality is that you don't look at haiku and say, 'You know, aren't you worried that this format is going to prevent people from thinking deeply when you can only use this many words and it has to be set this way?' I think that people develop language for creatively communicating within whichever constraints you set for people.

He also talked about Vine, the platform that allows users to create and share strings of six-second videos, as a new medium for video art.

The beauty of Vine, we thought, is that like Twitter, the six seconds would create this entirely new artistic language. That super tight constraint would mean people would have to be creative in all sorts of new ways that they hadn't had to be creative before when they thought about free-form video.

This grand narrative, that Twitter and Vine are creating a new form of language, fits neatly with the company's interests, of course. But there might be something to the comparison between short social-media blasts and art forms like poetry. As these kinds of social-media platforms have become more and more ubiquitous, micro-form content like tweets, Facebook status updates, or video clips has become a distinctive set of ways to craft pithy or powerful observations. A haiku of 500 words wouldn't be better than one of 17. Indeed, 500 words don't make a haiku at all. The power of communicating in fewer words is that those words mean more, and in their best forms, those words can inspire thousands more in discussion and speculation.

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also writes about religion and culture.

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