In Defense of Verbosity

When thinking about the changes brought about by Web 2.0, the first thing that sprang to mind was identity, but a close second was aesthetics. Perhaps this is more reflective of my own personal priorities (and research interests) than anything more truly comprehensive, but I think that the two always go hand in hand in person so it follows that they do in our digital manifestations too. Carefully curated, these identities become abstract portraits of the people we imagine ourselves to be—or wish we were—partly through the faces (metaphorical and literal) we choose to present, and partly in the genre of writing that we choose to narrate ourselves. For instance, as anyone who interacts with my Facebook presence knows, I delight in posting extended reflections, excerpts from what I am reading, and entertaining anecdotes; for me, this type of longer writing feels natural and meets with my own standard of written aesthetics. And what is so wrong about meandering in text or occasionally deploying purple prose to make a tongue-in-cheek point?

Perhaps for these reasons, I have (so far) avoided more streamlined and pithy social media platforms. I appreciate that the greater concision demanded by Twitter is in part an exercise in precise writing, but I don’t like the constraint. I understand that the purpose of hashtags is to link conversations and weave connections between post(er)s, but too often they just seem banal. Can the aesthetics of digital writing encompass both short forms that reach out to other writers by means as simple as #sunnyday, as well as longer, less digitally-native genres that fail to link in the same way because they require a different approach? Can’t so many short snippets be just as visually (un)appealing as a block of text?

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One thought on “In Defense of Verbosity”

  1. I agree that many hashtag users use them in banal ways. #YOLO, anyone?

    The writers who use hashtags the most effectively, I think, use them not as content per se but in order to attract people to read their words in longer form. For instance, the 140 character limit on Twitter prevents long and deep thoughts (although it permits suprisingly more length and depth than I originally credited it with affording!), but hashtags help direct readers to a longer post (blog or article or something else) where that longer unfolding of ideas and arguments can happen. Some of the most compelling twitter handles I follow (thinking particularly of @prisonculture and @NPRCodeSwitch at the moment) make judicious use of hashtags to bring readers in to a more nuanced and involved conversation.

    Still working on my own practice of hashtagging… doing it well isn’t easy.

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