Twitter had an IPO this week. They priced their shares at $26. Wall Street thought it was a better buy than Facebook had been and Twitter closed day one at $45. With 500 million tweets daily, Twitter has become an essential means of communication in our time-crunched society. Even the Pope tweets.
Those of us of a certain age remember when writing well and speaking eloquently were virtues. We were alive to read (and hear) some of the great speeches in history. What would we be reading today if our forefathers had been forced to keep their messaging to 140 characters? Let’s look at some of those writings.
Had the “Declaration of Independence” been a tweet, we would have read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rig” Oooh! So close! But even with three more characters, we wouldn’t have known what those rights were. Just a few edits and some modernization and we have: “These truths are obvious: all of us are created equal and we’re born with undeniable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Patrick Henry tweets quite well with some minor editing. “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” This squeaks in at just 140 characters.
Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” on the other hand, doesn’t fare as well. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the propositio” We have to jettison the lofty lingo and abbreviate to get to all men being created equal. “27 yrs ago our fathers birthed on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty N dedicated to the idea that all men are equal.” That leaves just enough room to insert “and women”. So much better as a tweet!
FDR’s first inaugural address would have left us hanging. “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only” Fortunately, Roosevelt provided some room to edit without loss of clarity, but the impact is not quite as inspiring. “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper. Let me assert that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
How does then VP candidate Richard Nixon’s “Checkers Speech” (defending his honesty and integrity) fare as a tweet? “Regardless of what happens, I'm going to continue this fight. I'm going to campaign up and down in America until we drive the crooks and the” At 140, that’s all he gets. He would never have left those Commie bastards unscathed and would more likely have texted: “Regardless, I'm going to keep fighting in America until we drive the crooks N the Commies N the creeps that defend them out of Washington.”
In contrast, John F. Kennedy has 39 characters to spare when he exhorts us: "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." His brevity could explain why he won the election. It was a surfeit of (recorded) words, after all, that eventually brought Nixon down.
Neil Armstrong was a born tweeter. “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” His version has the “a” inserted before “man,” and he still has 80 characters to spare.
President Reagan’s speech at the Berlin Gate would have been truncated to: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: ” Ronnie wouldn’t have had room to demand that Gorbachev open the gate and tear down the wall unless he’d been less formal. “Hey, Gen Sec Gorby! U want peace N prosperity 4 the Soviets N Eastern Europe? U wanna liberalize? Open this gate N tear down the damn wall!” Talk about impact!
As you can see, some great speeches gracefully make the transition to tweets. Others become ineloquent noise. Come to think of it, that’s not unlike today’s messaging.