Remembrance, Rights, Responsibility


Today is Memorial Day in the United States – the day we remember those who have died protecting our rights and our way of life.

We all appreciate our ability to say or write what we think and to live without the fear of the government evicting us from our homes or throwing us into jail at a whim. Most of us gratefully honor those who protect those rights, those freedoms.

Why is it then that so many ignore their responsibility in using and maintaining these rights? Why are so many of us willing to be herded by the “thought leaders” without doing what it takes to keep them honest?

I recently tripped across the piece “Thumb War” by Katie Roiphe in the latest issue of Esquire magazine. In it, Roiphe uses the Twitter storm around Gay Talese’s alleged comments regarding women writers to illustrate how thoughtlessly people comment on manufactured slants to subjects. We are so willing to blast someone in 140 characters without knowing the whole story.

Social media are like fire – beneficial if used responsibly, but dangerous if not. What worries me is the public’s willingness to be led by the short spurts of incomplete information they are fed. So many people get their “news” from Twitter and Facebook which, by their very nature, are unable to provide the deep research necessary for a complete story.

People don’t investigate to the heart of the matter, the kernel of truth, on other media outlets. They just don’t question whether what they’re reading or seeing is valid. That responsibility takes effort.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are rights established by the Constitution’s First Amendment. The purpose was to give people access to all information, especially information and opinion contrary to the mainstream, so they can make good decisions. Self-government is founded upon making decisions.

The most important area of decision making in government is selecting and influencing our representatives. We have the right – and the responsibility – to vote for our lawmakers. We should always make the best decision based not on what we’re fed by our preferred media source but by our stringent efforts to determine the truth of the candidates’ history, character, and personality.  Elections should not devolve into popularity contests.

This takes effort. We need to think critically about the complicated issues and the candidates’ positions on them. We have do more than follow the tweets and Facebook posts. And we need to vote on our investigation and synthesis of information. We need to fulfill our responsibilities to maintain our rights.

To do less would be to dishonor those we remember today.


Tweet Like a Songbird

Microblogging, with services like Twitter, is a great way to grab readers and direct them to more information (and to your website). But we need to make sure we still follow the paths of connection and clarity.

We first need to make a connection with readers, something they will immediately understand or, even better, emphasize with. People are more likely to respond to a common experience or a common idea.

Then we need to make sure what we write is clear to all the readers we want to reach. We need to avoid unfamiliar jargon or references. In Twitter, we also need to avoid using too many unfamiliar hashtags and links.

tweet 1

In this first tweet under “freelance writing,” the writer has included lots of links but doesn’t make the main idea clear. It seems like a foreign language to those of us who don’t follow the account. Notice that there are only four retweets and three favorites.


tweet w

This tweet, on the other hand, has two sentences that any freelance writer can emphasize with. Notice that it has 32 retweets and 67 favorites. Yet, there aren’t any links, other than the account’s profile, in the message. It makes the reader work to find out more.


nhra tweet

This tweet has a combination of a sentence any drag racing fan would understand followed by a variety of links. This tweet is different than the first because it gives clear information on the subject as well as provides links for finding more information.

rangers tweet

I really love this tweet (and it’s not just because I’m a Ranger fan). It compactly provides everything a reader needs to know about what’s going on and ways to easily find out more. A hashtag link is provided in the text. Even non-Ranger fans will understand what it refers to since it is under the Rangers’ account. It taps into a subject any sports fan can relate to – it’s game day. It also includes a neat photo that says it all for a Ranger follower: new, clean ice over the Ranger logo. Another season of hockey begins. The tweet even connects to the fans’ anticipation. It’s like waking up on Christmas morning.

This last tweet was written by a professional, but amateurs as well as writers new to the technology can learn from it and apply the principles to their own microblogging.

The text in microblogging may be brief, but we still need to remember to follow the paths of connection and clarity.

Those Electronic Babblers!

Hash tags frustrate me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means a Luddite, nor do I hate Twitter. In fact, there’s a certain beauty to the conciseness of expressing ideas within 140 characters. It is the attitude that this is always enough to communicate that frustrates me.


Writing is alive and well; good, effective writing has its toes in babelthe mausoleum. Everybody writes these days. They text; they Tweet; they blog; they post on Facebook. In fact, there’s TMI (too much information, way too much!).

In toilet at #MSG watching #NYRangers blow @NHL #Stanley Cup chances.

Do I care where you are? No, I do not. That’s the problem. There’s a whole bunch of people who insist on telling me things I don’t want to know. And they do it poorly – very poorly. They bombard me from every direction with statements that make no sense. Why should I work to figure out what they mean?

Good Conversation

Twitter is billed as a way to have an electronic conversation. That’s a great thing, but people have to remember that good conversations require us to state things in a way that others will understand, that information is received as well as broadcast.

We’ve all been in a situation where one person insists on just talking and talking without letting anyone else say anything and without really thinking about whether those listening can follow along. We tend to tune them out.

Well, we are less likely to make an effort to read something we have difficulty understanding than we are to listen to someone drone on. (The unabridged version of Moby Dick comes to mind. I keep trying to make myself finish it.)

One of the best things about the Internet – and one of its greatest pitfalls – is its ability to let us quickly and easily write what we think. It provides a forum for a free exchange of information and ideas. Unfortunately, there’s a huge percentage of people who vomit whatever is on their minds without taking time to consider the effects of what they write. They forget that someone actually has to understand their ideas and logic for communication to happen.

The ‘Oops’ Factor

At one time or another, we have all written something hastily and come to regret it. Think about that e-mail you dashed off at work without first reading over it. How many replies did you get asking you to clarify what you meant? Or maybe you posted something on Facebook (to 500 of your “closest” friends) when you were angry, and it came back to bite you because people misunderstood.

Twitter (or any social media outlet) is a great communication tool. However, when it is misused by people who post without thinking or keeping the reader in mind, Twitter becomes nothing more than a modern day Tower of Babel.