Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2017 (1498 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is not entirely a misquote of Polonius, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to say "brevity is the soul of (t)wit." Certainly this vain, false and generally unpleasant character — who uses these words to tell the king and queen their son is "mad" when he is not — would have enjoyed spewing his opinions on Twitter.
Profound ideas can be expressed in few words (as in Japanese haiku), but "profound" is not usually an adjective applied to the transient wisdom of a tweet.
It used to be said that "today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap." In comparison, much of what passes for social media today is instead more easily depicted as breaking electronic wind.
We could blame Marshall McLuhan for this problem, as misquoting him to conclude that "the medium is the message" excuses a lack of content in the Twitterverse. But when 140 characters describe the policies and intentions of political leaders, nothing good comes of it.
If we could express complex ideas and develop important ones in 140 characters, haiku would be casual conversation, not poetic art. Compound the problem by having Twitter accounts managed by political staffers, and the platform becomes a means of political self-immolation, not a way of reaching the masses.
"Just the facts"? Hardly. It requires thought, research and the ability to construct an argument of more than 140 characters to your audience. It also requires your audience to spend the time reading and considering what you have written.
As a society, we are drowning in a sea of information, unable to distinguish between real news and fake news because there are fewer and fewer objective benchmarks by which to measure the "truthiness" of what constantly swamps us.
But in a climate-changing world, we don’t really need more information. We need people to explain what it means, in a way that relies upon reason, expertise and evidence — preferably in more than 140 characters — so we can figure out what to do.
Using phrases such as "global warming" guarantees an electronic assault from anonymous trolls, however, likely subsidized by people trying to profit from the climate paralysis of others. Were I to listen to these trolls, I would feel this column is a pointless and thankless exercise and so keep my words to myself.
We may be doing little more than lashing crude editorial rafts together to cling to in the midst of a massive flood, but it beats swimming. Or drowning.
It is ironic that social media are fundamentally misunderstood, by both those who use it and those who abuse it. What matters most really is the message, not the medium — so those 140 characters must be placed in a larger framework that communicates what is intended to the specific audience it needs to reach, not just fired off into the breeze.
So, to improve our chances of making Manitoba a sustainability leader, I would love to give Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister a hard copy of my latest book, because (unlike other people) he might actually read it while he’s down in Costa Rica. After all, he is one of the brave to suggest he doesn’t live in the electronic realm.
In the current political climate, however, Pallister may not be amused by the gesture: it’s called Live Close to Home.
Peter Denton is the author of three overlooked books on sustainability and more than 1,800 long-since dissipated tweets. He is chairman of the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.