Pulitzer-prize winning historian Bernard Bailyn:
Twitter is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘high-brow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since Twitter is always short, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, Twitter does not have to follow any prescribed pattern… All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.
Prof. Bailyn didn’t actually write that. He wrote that years ago in The Idealogical Origins of the American Revolution, and was talking about the role that pamphlets played in socializing the ideas that laid the foundation of the revolution.
I’ve made this point before, in 2003 when I first read Bailyn’s book – back then, my focus was weblogs. In 18th century America, pamphlets were the fastest, easiest, most unfiltered way of distributing content. Today we have blogs and Twitter – but the dynamics that make them so compelling are the very same ones that made pamphlets so powerful 225 years ago.