Trace the evolution of online copy from websites through blogs to social networks to micro-blogging status updates and you see two changes. Updates get quicker, and shorter.
You can’t get much shorter than zero words and that’s the region which services such as Instagram and Pinterest now hover in. The user-generated content is all about photos or highlighting other people’s content, not about producing your own words (even if the zeitgeist spoilsports at Pinternet insist you enter at least one character as a description each time you pin content).
Imagine having a faulty smartphone where only one letter works on the keyboard. Can you still generate useful content? For websites, pretty much no, unless you run a website that gives daily exhortations to snooze and your functioning key is the Z. For bloggers life would not be much better, unless your daily routine is one of constant sleep or you feel the internet needs more marks of Zorro:
But by the time you get to Foursquare or Pinterest, however, only having a Z is but a minor inconvenience.
Becoming briefer does not mean things have become more facile or worse. The old joke about how everyone has a book in them – and for most people that is the best place for it – had all too much truth about it. The ability to produce as many words as you wish often produces flabby, lengthy and unfocused prose.
Enforced brevity is no guarantee of quality, but it often enhances it. Oscar Wilde was not dumbing down the English language when uttering one sentence quips. Albert Einstein was not dumbing down science when condensing knowledge into the simple equation E=mc2.
Brevity is a frequent mark of brilliance.