September 22, 2018

Twitter and the Responsibility of More

If you post on Twitter or follow someone who uses that social media platform — whether a reality star like a Kardashian or a reality star like President Donald Trump — you probably know that the character limit on tweets recently doubled from 140 to 280.

As with any change in technology, while many celebrated the increase, others grumbled. The mixed multitudes of kvetchers maintained that Twitter’s essential characteristic was brevity. The original character cap, they said, forced economical thinking, an increasing rarity in a space overpopulated by verbosity, and expanding that message space meant amplifying the worst parts of the internet — the users who spew hatred and negativity instead of love and enlightenment.

But more is better, right? More voices in an empowered, democratic America. More power, more success, more money, because that’s the American dream. More internet bandwidth. More unique impressions on your website. More entertainment options on your smart TV. “More” drives our capitalist society, each buzz of achievement a momentary high, stoking our pursuit of a sustained one.

Having more words is good, if we wield them wisely.

“More” is also the reason our immigrant ancestors moved here, dreaming of a nation golden in its guiding promise: more opportunity and more freedom for those with little or none of either. Many of us have lost touch with that existential type of “more,” when it applied mostly to freedom. This receding of memory is a blessing of sorts. Without the daily presence of immediate threats, we are not motivated by the same fears and worries. We are free to acquire and expand, to be who we want to be. We are already at the “more” our ancestors dreamed of.

Even God promises more: that we will be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, that our descendants will be as numerous as the sands of the earth and the stars of the sky. “More” is our literal, biblical birthright as children of Israel. But the daily truth is that while prophecies may promise abundance, fertility and the chance to make a real impact, reality may not deliver. For many, the present has not delivered on what was promised and, in many cases, deserved. Life is not a meritocracy: When it comes to love or family or legacy, our “more” may never come. And when deprived of this “more,” so many of us can feel like less.

Except in speech. We know that two Jews have three opinions, or in an age of internet expression, maybe even more. We always have more to say. We have not just the Bible verses but multiple commentaries that dissect the verses’ word choice, phrasing and narrative. Not just those commentaries, but the oral Torah. Not just the Mishnah but the Gemara and accompanying commentaries. We hunger for more opinions, more meaning, more interpretations to learn from and stand in opposition to. Having more words is good, if we wield them wisely.

Twitter gave everyone 280 characters, not just celebrities, thinkers or raconteurs — or just Jews (although that would have been interesting). This expanded space is politically, religiously and socially agnostic. It’s equal for all, regardless of race, class, gender, merit, wisdom or power. Anyone can connect to anyone — to lift them up with hope and love, or to assault them with invective and hate. Evil can assert itself as easily in 140 characters as it can in 280. Messages through any medium are made in the image of their author.

Living in abundance should mean increased gratitude for the wealth you possess, humility about how you achieved it, acquired wisdom about how to use your assets and generosity of spirit toward those who have less. In this winter holiday retail season, our desire to acquire may assert itself. But we should pause before we purchase or post, and use our budgets of dollars and words responsibly to bring light, joy and peace to those around us.

Shakespeare, who drew on a tremendous well of potential words to find the ones that fit just so — in iambic pentameter, no less — wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit.” Just because we have 280 characters to wield doesn’t mean we always have to use them all.


Esther D. Kustanowitz, a 10-year veteran of Twitter, is a contributing writer at the Jewish Journal and an editor at GrokNation.com.