By sharing the [Korean] script with others, Ms. Lee said, she is simply expressing the will of her ancestor King Sejong, who promulgated the script. (She is a direct descendant, 21 generations removed.)
The national holiday, Hangul Day, on Oct. 9, celebrates the king’s introduction of the script in 1446. Before that, Koreans had no writing system of their own. The elite studied Chinese characters to record the meaning, but not the sound, of Korean.
“Many of my illiterate subjects who want to communicate cannot express their concerns,” the king is recorded to have said in explaining the reason for Hunminjeongeum, the original name for Hangul. “I feel sorry for them. Therefore I have created 28 letters.”
“The king propagated Hangul out of love of his people,” Ms. Lee said. “It’s time for Koreans to expand his love for mankind by propagating Hangul globally. This is an era of globalization.”
This idea [of concise communication] certainly isn't new. How about the book of Proverbs? "When words are many, sin is not absent, / but he who holds his tongue is wise" (10:19). At seventy-eight characters, including spaces and punctuation, eminently tweetable. What about memorable speeches? We don't remember the whole speech. But the short quotes are bite-sized, so they stick. "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" (seventy-nine characters). Long? No. Meaningful? Yes. Or how about song lyrics? "I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for"--128 characters. Tweet it, baby.
This highly lauded poem by William Carlos Williams could be tweeted with 51 characters to spare:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Or this Japanese Haiku:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
Simple. Beautiful. Tweet-worthy.
Some young pastors want to posts tweets on a screen where everyone can see them during worship, I guess to connect by knowing what others are thinking. One said, “You know our generation. We want our voices heard.”
Now, I have learned a few things along the way and one is this: We all want our voices heard. But self-expression is what happens when we tweet. Being heard happens when we listen. It’s not the same thing.
Q: You sound like you’re able to handle the ups and downs of this job pretty well.
A: I think the key to doing this job, in addition to multitasking and speed of movement, is to be able to handle the emotional components. I’m good at it; I’m empathetic and I don’t take it home at the end of the day. I can talk about things like domestic violence; it’s just a reality.
Q: How long have you been doing this job?
A: I’ve been doing it for nine years. My job now is training supervisor, so I manage ongoing training. New trainees go through a nine-month process; we have an academy. They learn call-taking, radio dispatching, the medical aspect, interpersonal skills.
And you have to know geography. Geography is so important, because people can call and have no clue where they are.
It’s vital to understand that solitude, like silence, have rarely been available to human beings. Try reading Bruce Smith’s extraordinary (though too jargony) account of The Acoustic World of Early Modern England if you’re prone to think of the pre-industrial Western world as a silent one. Especially in cities, the noise — often literally deafening, in areas where blacksmiths and other craftsmen lived — went on twenty-four hours a day; though of course things were quieter in the countryside.
But not more solitary. In country and city alike, whole families slept in single rooms, often sharing those rooms with animals. Only the enormously wealthy could spread out into multiple rooms. (It’s worth remembering that throughout human history the vast majority of couples have had to have sex in the same room, and often in the same bed, with other people.) And all of these noisy and crowded conditions that we see in our studies of the European past are, of course, present-day realities for many people today; perhaps most humans on the planet.
As Diana Webb has recently shown in her new book Privacy and Solitude: The Medieval Discovery of Personal Space — reviewed here — medieval Europeans in general simply accepted their lack of “personal space,” but others valued it and desired it sufficiently to retreat from the world, as hermits and anchorites, in order to get it. But these were necessarily special cases. Until the nineteenth century in Europe and other economically developed parts of the world, very few people have been able to find either solitude or silence.
Texting is the cheapest and most popular mode of cellphone communication in most of the world, and last year text messages topped voice calls even in the U.S. The world’s three billion cellphones far surpass the Internet as a universal communications medium, and they are vital to business development in less-developed economies.
But companies that develop predictive text say they have created cellphone software for fewer than 80 of the world’s 6,912 languages cataloged by SIL International, a Dallas organization that works to preserve languages.
One key to using the languages is the availability of a technology called predictive text, which reduces the number of key taps necessary to create a word when using a limited keypad. Market research shows that text messaging soars after predictive text becomes available. . . .
In Hindi, a language with 11 vowels and 34 consonants that is spoken by 40% of the Indian population, texting “Namaste,” which means “hello,” can take 21 key presses. . . . Typing “Namaste” with predictive text takes just six key presses. Nuance Corp. of Burlington, Mass., which dominates the predictive-text market, says that in 2006 cellphone users in India with predictive text in their handsets averaged 70 messages a week; those without it averaged 18.
A Romantic, says Nietzsche, is someone who always wants to be elsewhere. If that’s so, then the children of the Internet are Romantics, for they perpetually wish to be someplace else, and the laptop reliably helps take them there — if only in imagination. The e-mailer, the instant messenger, the Web browser are all dispersing their energies and interests outward, away from the present, the here and now. The Internet user is constantly connecting with people and institutions far away, creating surrogate communities that displace the potential community at hand.
Then too, booking by computer has made travel easier and, by eliminating a certain number of middlemen, kept it reasonably cheap. So there’s an inducement to take off physically as well. The Internet is perhaps the most centrifugal technology ever devised. The classroom, where you sit down in one space at one time and ponder a text or an issue in slow motion, is coming to feel ever more antiquated. What’s at a premium now is movement, making connections, getting all the circuitry fizzing and popping.
For students now, life is elsewhere. Classes matter to them, but classes are just part of an ever-enlarging web of activities and diversions. Students now seek to master their work — not to be taken over by it and consumed. They want to dispatch it, do it well and quickly, then get on to the many other things that interest them. For my students live in the future and not the present; they live with their prospects for success and pleasure. They dwell in possibility.
In a world in which entire industries bet their businesses on gaining access to our attention, which value leads to better personal success: hard work or the ability to control attention?
A person who works six hours a day but with total focus has an enormous advantage over a 12-hour-per-day workaholic who’s “multi-tasking” all day, answering every phone call, constantly checking Facebook and Twitter, and indulging every interruption.
So why, with the cornucopia of goodies now available to us, are blockbusters not just still here, but getting bigger? On the face of it, Anderson’s idea of a divergence of tastes in the digital era is logical. But if the long tail effect does not exist, or is not as pronounced as was thought, what is really going on?
Elberse says it’s a bit like the influence of multichannel television on the economics of sport. In the old days, if you wanted to watch soccer, you went to watch your local team in the flesh. Now, she says, in the UK you are more likely to decide to stay at home and watch Chelsea play Arsenal. This change of allegiance cuts the cash flowing into the ticket office of your local club while boosting advertising revenues for TV, which accrue disproportionately in favour of the already wealthy top clubs.
It is a phenomenon known to economists as the Matthew effect, after a quotation from the gospel of that name: “For unto every one that hath shall be given.” Just as for the long tail effect, there is a plausible explanation of why it should be happening in the modern media environment: easy digital replication and efficient communication through cellphones, email and social networking sites encourage fast-moving, fast-changing fads. The result is a homogenisation of tastes that boosts the chances of popular things becoming blockbusters, making the already successful even more successful.
One India reports on how mobile phones are used after the devastating floods in Bihar, India. While relief and aid have been very slow to get to Bihar, mobiles are proving to be a life saver. According to One India, “[Mobiles] are playing the most crucial role in largescale evacuation and rescue of marooned people from far flung areas. The availability of mobile phones to all sections of people across the flooded regions and their 24 hour connectivity during the crisis period, greatly helped the rescue teams to locate the cut off villages and localities besides saving many lives even from remote areas.”
Through cell phones the marnooed people were also able to remain connected with the district officials to guide them about their need and the urgency of rescuing them.
My friend Elisabeth assures me that the new national plague of love yous is a good thing: a healthy reaction against the repressed family dynamics of our Protestant childhoods some decades ago. What could be wrong, Elisabeth asks, with telling your mother that you love her, or with hearing from her that she loves you? What if one of you dies before you can speak again? Isn’t it nice that we can say these things to each other so freely now?
I do here admit the possibility that, compared with everyone else on the airport concourse, I am an extraordinarily cold and unloving person; that the sudden overwhelming sensation of loving somebody (a friend, a spouse, a parent, a sibling), which to me is such an important and signal sensation that I’m at pains not to wear out the phrase that best expresses it, is for other people so common and routine and easily achieved that it can be reëxperienced and reëxpressed many times in a single day without significant loss of power.
It’s also possible, however, that too-frequent habitual repetition empties phrases of their meaning. Joni Mitchell, in the last verse of “Both Sides Now,” referenced the solemn amazement of saying I love you “right out loud”: of giving vocal birth to such intensity of feeling. Stevie Wonder, in lyrics written 17 years later, sings of calling somebody up on an ordinary afternoon simply to say “I love you,” and being Stevie Wonder (who probably really is a more loving person than I am), he half succeeds in making me believe in his sincerity—at least until the last line of the chorus, where he finds it necessary to add: “And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.” No such avowal is thinkable for the person who really does mean something from the bottom of his heart.
Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of the Ethernet, noticed that communication networks tend to increase exponentially with each single addition, a logic that today is called Metcalfe’s Law. Think of a fax machine sitting alone and unplugged in your office; it has little value by itself. But plug it into a network of fax machines around the world, and suddenly that communications tool has huge potential. . . .
But Metcalfe’s concept doesn’t apply to Twitter. The explanation why comes from two fellows named Zipf and Dunbar. Back in 1935, linguist George Zipf noticed that words in the English language are used in an interesting pattern. “The” is spoken most commonly, making up 7% of all utterances; “of” is the second-most common word, used exactly one-half as often as “the”…and the pattern continues with the 100th word in popularity being used only 1/100th as often. Zipf’s Law suggests that each subsequent thing in any series (such as your Twitter contacts) has predictable diminishing value. Your spouse is more important than your best friend, who outranks your boss, colleague, and that guy you met on a plane from Chicago. Inside the 2.3 million-strong Twitter network, not all connections are equal, and some will never be used at all. You will probably never send tweets to ice skaters in Finland.
Further depressing Twitter’s internal value is a concept from British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who noted in 1992 that humans—like other primates—can handle only 150 relationships. If we try to add many more connections, our little brains get overloaded.
These are just theories, but they point out that Twitter is not a vast communications network of 2.3 million users squared. Rather, it consists of small pools of people with gaps and limits on how they interact. This is important to marketers and investors, because it puts big brakes on how internal communications could propagate inside any social media network.
But the need to save time and energy is by no means the whole story of texting. When we look at some texts, they are linguistically quite complex. There are an extraordinary number of ways in which people play with language - creating riddles, solving crosswords, playing Scrabble, inventing new words. Professional writers do the same - providing catchy copy for advertising slogans, thinking up puns in newspaper headlines, and writing poems, novels and plays. Children quickly learn that one of the most enjoyable things you can do with language is to play with its sounds, words, grammar - and spelling.
The drive to be playful is there when we text, and it is hugely powerful. Within two or three years of the arrival of texting, it developed a ludic dimension. In short, it’s fun.