With so many irresistibly clickable headlines (see: A Cat Adopts Baby Squirrel, Teaches It To Purr) it's easy to get distracted while reading something "important" online. And with Twitter condensing every tax cut or foreign policy debate to 140 character clips, it becomes even easier. This refrain--that short tweets, texts, or status updates are slowly deteriorating humanity's critical thinking abilities--has been consistently echoed even as information obesity takes its hold (Nicholas Carr helped kickstart this theme in his widely debated 2008 essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?") .
But perhaps Twitter isn't so mind-numbing after all. Presenting a more optimistic take on short form communication is Wired's Clive Thompson, who believes something "more complex" is happening as readers digest a flurry of soon-to-be-dated tweets. "The torrent of short-form thinking is actually a catalyst for more long-form meditation," he argues. Here's how his argument plays out (shortened, of course, for faster consumption):
When something newsworthy occurs, a "blizzard" of status updates and tweets arrive. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for critical thinking, it's just simply society "chewing" over what happened and forming a "quick impression" of an event. It also sets the stage for the "long take": the essay or report that takes weeks, months or years to produce and delivers an in-depth analysis on the news event in question. The real loser of this short take/long take divide, Thompson figures, is the middle take. It's the stuff of newsweeklies and articles that are produced "a few days" after major events that have only "a bit of analysis sprinkled on top."
The even shorter version of Thompson's theory? "We talk a lot, then we dive deep."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.