Part of the knock on Twitter has been the difficulty in making a coherent point in 140 characters. Personally, I think that shows a lack of imagination. Regardless, a researcher in Cornell has ably demonstrated that limited space messages are nothing new. And we’re not talking about telegrams.
Lee Humphreys, a Cornell University communications professor, has reviewed several 18th and 19th century diaries as background to her ongoing work in classifying Twitter output (H/T Futurity). These were relatively small journals, necessitating short messages. And those messages bear a resemblance to the kinds of Twitter messages that focus on what people are doing (as opposed to the messages where people are reacting to things). Those familiar with the Bridget Jones’ Diary books might remember the short messages with plenty of abbreviations. Again, with Twitter the brevity is not what’s new, it’s the network attached to it that changes things. You don’t have to collect the diaries when they’re archived.
Let me add this take-away – what we have here is additional evidence that ‘high’ technology isn’t the only interesting technology. Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old is a great general interest treatment of this idea, something that needs to be re-emphasized periodically. It’s a good temper to the arguments that claim new technologies demand completely new thinking. History still matters.