When I began writing this column back in 1985, my page could hold up to 1,000 words. Over the years that number has shrunk, first to 800, then 700. As of this month, with Sojourners’ new design, I get a measly 600. But I’m not disgruntled. As I’ve had fewer words to work with, the ones I use are often better chosen.
Besides, I know very well that in the “new media environment” I’m lucky to still be printed and read at all. Six hundred words is practically War and Peace compared to the 140-character limit of a Tweet.
When this column began, I knew that our media world was changing. CNN, MTV, and home video were already here. So was USA Today with its ultra-short stories and dumbed-down tone. Also, a few years earlier Sojourners had made the transition from typewriters to computers. When I saw my thoughts transmuted into pure light on the screen, I felt in my bones that something really new had arrived. But in 1985 I didn’t know what it was.
Now we know—it was the wired world of instant information. Soon the U.S. military’s digital network was opened to the public, and the inexorable process began that has led us to Facebook and Twitter. It’s an evolutionary (or devolutionary) process that is changing the way we shop and form relationships, and even the way we think.
Since the 1994 launch of the Web, I’ve spent lots of time with roomfuls of 18- to 22-year-olds, so I’ve watched this evolutionary process up close. And I’ve become convinced that the scientists are right who say that it is not just a cultural evolution (like the one from oral tradition to print) but a biological one. People’s brains are changing.