I’d seen it before, but I was reminded again today driving and listening to the radio. It was a show about the 6 word biographies collected by the folks over at Smith Magazine. The 6 word biography is based on a six word novel by Hemingway:
For sale, baby shoes, never used
The interesting thing about the limitation of six words is its liberating effect. Professional writers become addicted, and “everyday writers” are enabled to create great work. This brings to mind the two-way web and the ability of users to write, take photographs, make music, make movies, create complex hypertext documents. But what users have really embraced are things like the structured life narrations via social or interest groups, and short creative forms like Twitter.
With Twitter it’s the simplicity combined with the constraints that produces the outpouring of writing. It’s biography in 140 characters; it’s a novel in 140 characters; it’s a dialog among citizens of a democracy in 140 characters; it’s the conversation about what’s going on right now in 140 characters. Twitter is one of the most successful forms of the two-way web because it stays out of the way and lets the voices come through.
Sometimes it takes a long time for an idea to reach fruition. The names that come to mind are Vannevar Bush (As We May Think), Ted Nelson (Hypertext), and Doug Englebart (GUI HCI), among others. One that you might not think of is Bertolt Brecht. After listening to the Friday, March 14th NewsGang and Gang podcasts, I think Brecht would be smiling. Here’s something that he wrote in 1932:
…radio is one-sided when it should be two It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers. Any attempt by the radio to give a truly public character to public occasions is a step in the right direction.
Radio has begun genuinely moving in two directions. We live in interesting times, and according to Brecht, we seem to be moving in the right direction.