The “Social Network” of 140 Characters

I joined Twitter early last year for the sole reason of procuring what the hype was about. That’s it. The only social network I devotedly followed was Facebook. The reason? I wanted to check out what my friends were up to on a daily basis, and if anything interesting from the web was posted or shared. Before I even tap on the CNN for my daily dose of news, major stories are shared by my friends online. Twitter was a whole different ball game. Its vernacular was a difficult adjustment. I found pleasure in adding “friends,” aka celebrities who I found interesting, talented, or historical, maybe even a combination. Now, my twitter account contains less than a handful of people I have actually met, and hundreds of people whose posts I deem as “entertainment news.” A symbol of Twitter’s rise to the top of my social networking priorities lies in its position on my iPhone’s home screen: adjacent to the instantly recognizable blue “f.”

Thick Tweets 

Using this twitter account, I tweeted the following tweets in hopes of visualizing and practicing the act of producing thick tweets.

Thick tweets, according to author David Silver’s appropriately-titled blog post, “The Difference Between Thin and Thick Tweets“, are tweets that convey two or more layers of information (often with help from a hyperlink) as opposed to one layer like that of a thin tweet.

My first thick tweet, discussing Apple's release of the iPhone 6.

My first thick tweet, discussing Apple’s release of the iPhone 6.

First Thick Tweet

My first thick tweet refers to the recent launch of the widely-popular, next-generation versions of Apple’s acclaimed smartphone brand, the iPhone. After a typically popular release, Apple released information stating that they had acquired more than 4 million preorders of the two versions of the phone in less than 24 hours. Apple’s new iPhone 6 is coupled with the next version of its highly-regarded iOS software, which has infamously opened its latches for consumers to begin to customize their phone more than ever before. Per Silver’s description of the purpose of a thick tweet, I attempted to post a tweet that packed multiple layers of information within 140 characters in an attempt to “craft creative, meaty, and to-the-point messages that attract other people’s attention” (Silver). Now, due to the lack of close friends associated with me on Twitter, and due to my lack of active followers, my tweet will garner little-to-no attention, and that is perfectly okay.

That is perfectly okay for me for two reasons:

1) I had not only acquired the knowledge, but also practiced producing thick tweets.

2) My Twitter is used so that I can follow celebrities, entertainers, politicians, and popular media outlets. I know that I can receive responses on Facebook, where I have hundreds in my friends list, many of which are active users.

Can my tweet be considered a thick tweet, even though it lacks a hyperlink (the limit of 140 characters has never been easy to accept)? I think so. I included multiple layers of information within Twitter’s 140 character limit, namely: the release of Apple’s next-gen smartphones, its software iOS 8 enriching the platform, and iOS 8’s open customization options.

My second thick tweet, introducing Chicago's Macaroni and Cheese festival in the fall!

My second thick tweet, introducing Chicago’s Macaroni and Cheese festival in the fall

Second Thick Tweet

My second thick tweet is in reference to a macaroni and cheese-based festival in Chicago this fall. As a macaroni and cheese lover, I used the 140 characters of the tweet to call out Mac and Cheese lovers (1), tell them about an exciting event in Chicago this fall (2), and refer them to a link that, according to Silver, not only gives more information about the event in my tweet, but “is so compelling that no reader in his or her right mind can avoid clicking the link” (Silver).


Why does thick tweeting matter? Isn’t social networking all about producing short bits of information? Well, not exactly. It’s about producing short bits of effective, impactful information (No, your cat memes and mirror selfies are not impactful). Thick tweets bring substance to an otherwise widely criticized digital lifestyle that authors like Nicholas Carr deride for reducing literacy rates and standardized test scores. In his piece, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the current issue of the Atlantic magazine, Carr warns that the Web was changing the way he — and others — think. “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” he wrote, confessing that he now found it difficult to read long books.

What Carr, and other critics, fail to recognize at times is that the world, and its culture, are ever-evolving, and while the importance of reading cannot be understated, digital lifestyles are becoming ever-more prevalent and appealing. Rather than critiquing digital lifestyles like social networking, its imperative to adapt and evolve them to best serve as both a knowledge base and a communications tool.

Motoko Rich, in “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” discusses the Internet as being more about a conversation, whereas books are more of a one-way ordeal. Our interaction and involvement through social networking in this “conversation” format may be even more cognitively demanding in the digital age than analyzing literary texts themselves. Internet reading, social networking, and essentially researching involve locating information quickly and accurately, and eventually corroborating findings on multiple sites and from multiple sources. As Rich states, “some literacy experts say that reading itself should be redefined. Interpreting videos or pictures, they say, may be as important a skill as analyzing a novel or a poem” (Rich). As the landscape of acquiring and sharing knowledge – the premise of books and the internet – drastically changes in the digital age, reading should not be the only thing redefined. Our existing culture and traditions should not define us. Rather, they should conform to our ever-changing nature. Imagine reading a tweet this long. You can’t, right? That’s because, in this age, people prefer to get these ideas – and much more – in 140 characters of less. Is that great? Maybe, and maybe not. But for the time being, let’s make some thick tweets. Anyone want to join me for the Macaroni and Cheese festival?

Discussion Questions

Let’s discuss two ideas I think are important in understanding the evolution of media

1) How would you redefine reading and writing in terms of literacy in the digital age?

2) What would be the best way to encourage online literacy while maintaining standardized test scores and strong reading habits?

The following article by Liz Lightfoot in The Independent describes a government adviser’s attempt to make English primary schoolchildren the most hi-tech in the world. However, he is combated by critics who worry that skills such as tweeting and blogging might affect their ability to understand the basics. Read the article here, and sound off in the comments below about your reaction to the article!




One comment

  1. To encourage online literacy in today’s digital age I think it is important that education be more present online. In primary education it is more important than ever before for use of the internet to be encouraged in school. Through educational tools that are not just digital, but online students can learn from an early age what a boundless resource the internet has come to be in enriching their knowledge.

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