Twitter Isn’t Competing With Books

Twitter Isn’t Competing With Books

I saw a newspaper article yesterday (in The Times, which I don’t usually read) that really annoyed me (and that’s why I don’t normally read it). A professor was arguing that books will outlive Twitter, and then mocked Twitter users by condensing the plot of books down into 140 characters, which he managed primarily by using text speak and other contractions.

Yes, I think books will outlive Twitter. Books have already been around for centuries, and social media changes rapidly, with people moving away from old sites and onto new ones for seemingly arbitrary reasons. I’m not arguing with that.

But I do question why this is a statement that needs to be made in the first place. Books and Twitter aren’t intended for the same purposes. Unlike an examination of stats regarding paperbacks and eBooks and which is more popular, the two aren’t actually in competition with one another. It’s like asking whether candles will outlive Jaffa Cakes.

People turn to Twitter for communication, news, and updates from people they might admire without knowing them in person. Sometimes, they’re there for the jokes and the funny hashtags. Others are there to stalk literary agents and figure out who to query, or to get the news in brief bites that are far quicker to process.

Twitter can also be the home of profound literary analysis.
Twitter can also be the home of profound literary analysis.

But on the whole, people don’t turn to Twitter for stories. They don’t turn to it for the same reasons they turn to books: for escapism, education, passion. So why compare the two?

And then there were the 140-character summaries of book plots. Look, I don’t know whether fairly elderly professors have got this into their heads yet, but text speak has all but died out. Nobody I know uses it. Well, I know one person who still texts like that because she has a very old phone that is slow to type with, and even she doesn’t use it to such an extent.

When was the last time you saw someone say “try2c” instead of “try to see”? Or take out the vowels so that “crzy” means ‘crazy’ and “wrks” is ‘works’? I think the Harry Potter one was the cringiest:

“11yo Harry = wizard! Off 2wizard skool. Temp defeats Lord Voldie (whohe?) + 3 headed dog 2 bag the stone.”

Let’s just break down all the problems with that. First, nobody uses the word ‘skool’ and hasn’t since about 2005. It’s outdated, cringey, and was never a good word in the first place. ‘Temp’ here is confusing. Eventually I figured out it meant ‘temporarily’, but it sounds like a temporary member of staff did the job. Why the removal of spaces to say ‘whohe’? Why mention the stone now when it hasn’t been mentioned earlier?

I just… articles like this are impossible for me to take seriously, because all this demonstrates is that the person arguing against Twitter has very little idea how it actually works. You know what people do when a tweet is too long, instead of removing all vowels, spaces, and semblance of grammar? They split it into two. RADICAL.

Or more than two. Protip for the professor: read from the bottom. Just in case.
Or more than two. Protip for the professor: read from the bottom. Just in case.

I’m fed up people opposing technology in a way that is patronising and misleading. People who choose to use Twitter aren’t illiterate preteens from 2006 who still talk the way people did when MSN was the main form of communication. (Yes, once upon a time I too thought signing off with ‘cya’ was the coolest thing ever.) Pretending that they are literally undermines the whole argument.

That Twitter won’t outlive books because that Twitter is already dead, cremated, and scattered to the four winds.

It’s perfectly possible to give a summary of a book in a single line — I know many authors who pitch their books that way, or advertise things they’re already selling. Let’s see if I can do it for The Knight Shift.

university student becomes knight working with MI5 against anarchists; loyalty to family vs to girlfriend and knights causes conflict

Oh look. No unnecessary contractions or lost vowels, and I had seven characters left over to add some of the missing indefinite articles.

So people whose trade is books, whose life is books, use Twitter. Bestselling authors like Maggie Stiefvater are utterly hilarious on Twitter, making the most of it as a platform to share aspects of her life and writing. Booklovers tweet pictures of books they’ve bought or encourage followers to read things. Books are lovingly criticised with hashtags like #veryrealisticYA or #weneeddiversebooks.

Books and Twitter aren’t in competition. They’re allies. The fact that 10% of young respondents in a survey by Samsung said they’ve never read a novel is unlikely to be the work of Twitter itself, since if they’re my age, they had plenty of time before its invention to peruse a book. In fact, social media makes it more likely that they’ll pick up something they see hyped by friends and rolemodels they respect.

Perhaps the professor should invest in this t-shirt.
Perhaps the professor should invest in this t-shirt.

Technology isn’t trying to bring about the downfall of the written word. It’s not. I love books, and I love physical books because I can say more about my own personality in the shelves around my room than in any amount of words. But I still read eBooks because they’re cheaper or more convenient or unavailable in print. I love stories more than the paper they’re printed on, which is after all merely a receptacle. I’ll read battered, second-hand paperbacks I bought in a library sale, and I’ll enjoy it just as much as a brand new book that I paid good money for.

Technology has made it possible for me to read and discover books I’d never have come across otherwise. Twitter is a part of that. Dismissing it as something that’ll pass in favour of older pastimes like reading, while demonstrating a total lack of understanding about how it functions nowadays, is an argument that doesn’t need to be made. A non-conclusion.

And for the record? Yeah, candles probably will outlive Jaffa Cakes, but that doesn’t mean the brief and glorious reign of the chocolate-jaffa-cake conglomeration was worthless because it didn’t give off light.

9 thoughts on “Twitter Isn’t Competing With Books

  1. I don’t actually have twitter (because I don’t and I’m a busy person who doesn’t need more time to procrastinate) but I go and stalk authors there regularly. This comparison is so true. Even when I had a phone with actual keys (and now I don’t have a phone) , I didn’t use text language. I loved this discussion :)

    1. Thanks for reading. Yeah, text speak is definitely a relic of a bygone era; you only find it now in misguided attempts to engage with ‘the youth’, where it usually minimises the potential success of the campaign.

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