Word and attention scarcity

The Twitter revolution is yet to show its full ramifications. We’re beginning to see some of its more significant effects, such as a president’s ability to shortcut traditional channels and effectively rule by tweets, careers made and unmade after someone twitting a 280-character text; divisions between the public and private spaces being disrupted, with Twitter and Facebook presenting themselves as Agora-type structures while being controlled by individuals and groups with very specific interests and agendas.

One effect of the Twitter climate change is the shift towards laconism. This is not without a paradox. Despite the Big-Bang type expansion of internet space, we seem to be headed towards compression. As though we’re running low on space.

If word scarcity in printed media like newspapers and magazines is a result of technology – more text requires more physical space and therefore more ink and more paper, driving the cost of production up –, word scarcity in places like Twitter (and less dogmatically elsewhere) is a result of attention scarcity: we simply don’t have time to read everything, so the value of every word we read is constantly going up. Websites, blogs, podcasts (time to read is also time to listen) vie for our attention, while advertisers pay a good buck to place their clients in our line of sight or within our earshot.

Twitter may have decided single-handedly to impose a word limit on its posts, but in doing so, it simply took a reading of the media air we breathe – and it’s thin air indeed.

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