When there is Twitter, who cares for traditional writing

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
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Traditional educationalists seem to be facing a losing battle with current generation of young students around the world, and in the Arab world in particular.

They bemoan the lack of interest in writing out their ideas, elaborating and defending them in essay style writings, instead preferring for the less strenuous multiple choice examination responses and the current more ubiquitous twitter messaging.

Who can blame them when it seems that politicians and so-called opinion leaders are opting for the 140 character messages to lay out their thoughts, anger or response to other tweets and satisfy a mass market hungry for their twitter junkie fix of the day?

Are these justified criticisms or are the traditionalists completely out of touch with a fast moving modern world? There are arguments for both, but with grave implications for an educated and articulate society.

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Some argue that in a fast moving modern world with events unfolding globally and brought home through a technological revolution, ensures that followers of events need to absorb as many of these fast moving events as possible and have no time to absorb long and laboriously laid out written discourses and arguments.

But even Twitter has recognized the limit of imposing a small number of characters for users to express in an intelligent manner their thoughts, excluding of course the bizarre use of exclamation marks and other symbols.

The problem with brevity is that ideas and messages are not well thought out as evidenced by the many retractions, deletions and apologies that follow either misunderstood or ill worded tweets

Dr. Mohamed Ramady

140 to 280

The company announced that it has started testing 280-character tweets, doubling the previous 140-character limit, in an effort to help users be more expressive.

According to the company, research showed that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people tweeting in English, let alone in other languages, and that increasing the character number actually will help with people making more tweets, presumably those with the ability to rationalise beyond 140 characters.

The 140-character limit was originally established to reflect the length of SMS messages, which was how tweets were distributed prior to the development of mobile apps. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters; Twitter reserved the remaining 20 for the username.

Given the mass appeal of tweeting today, Twitter has considered expanding the tweet length for years, even mooting up to 10,000 characters. Given the appeal of lashing out a 140 or 280-word tweet plus a few exclamation marks, the far larger tweet idea is not going to go down well with tweet-obsessed users as Twitter’s identity has always derived from its real-time nature and the brevity of its messages.

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The argument goes that if one wishes to expand on his or her ideas then they are welcome to write out full essays. The problem with brevity is that ideas and messages are not well thought out as evidenced by the many retractions, deletions and apologies that follow either misunderstood or ill worded tweets.

The problem then becomes that this is not a matter of choice of either a brief thought via tweeting or longer essays, but what type of a future informed and literate society we wish our children to inherit.

Future generations will no longer have the interest or the concentration span of reading books or long essays or setting down their thoughts in this format. The art of book writing will die out and so will the passion for oratory.

Who can forget epoch making and inspirational speeches by leaders in time of crisis and need, and their everlasting appeal, compared with soon to be forgotten rambling tweets?

Many of the older generations around the world look back with nostalgia and some nightmare flashbacks on their efforts to write out full-length essays, with many efforts rubbished by teachers that the ideas were not clearly expressed and the essays to be re written.

Well-argued reasoning

We thank those teachers now as hopefully it instilled in us the love of querying issues and setting out well-argued reasoning. The same applied to debating societies in schools and universities where opponents argued for or against a topic of the day, helping to tone language skills and intellectual curiosity.

How can one do that in a 140 or 280 character tweet? No wonder the accusation of fake news today, creating an even greater torrent of supporting and opposing tweets but with few really comprehending the key issues at stake.

The difference is that tweeting is easy and anyone can do it , whether these are comprehensible or not, and the same applies to the lowest level of multiple choice questions with a yes/no choice , as opposed to more rigorous essay writing.

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The same applies to modern TV media coverage of events and the difference in style of more “traditionalist” media outlets who make their reputation through hard hitting full length debates and questioning like the BBC’s Hard Talk, program and the more catchy modern TV media where it seems the television presenter is the news rather than the other way around.

These stations interrupt news programs with seemingly random incongruous advertisements, and nothing is more hilarious than watching self -promoting TV anchors grill their guests to discuss in 15 seconds or less what they believe are the key issues facing the world in say global warming , genocide in Myanamar, spreading trade disputes, or North Korea’s de-nuclearization prospects. Back to tweets.

Despite imploring him to stop being a dinosaur, as many of my former students can testify, this writer does not and will not have a Twitter or Facebook account. Maybe they are right, but long may the traditional education dinosaurs live.
Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and co-author of ‘OPEC in a Post Shale world – where to next ?’. His latest book is on ‘Saudi Aramco 2030: Post IPO challenges’.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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