By Ray McAllister | July 31st, 2014

As an author and magazine editor, obviously I am happy that people read books and magazines (not to mention financially dependent). Information, experiences and thoughts can be well and fully shared.

But increasingly thoughts and even actions are communicated through social media. Those truncated formats seem to cut down on, shall we say, the thoughtfulness of thoughts.

Twitter allows us to convey everything we need to know in … 140 characters. …

Just 140?

To show you what 140 characters look like, we’re already halfway there. In this one paragraph. And we haven’t said anything. Now we’re done.

JFK’s famous line from his inaugural address – “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” – just that one sentence is 108 characters.

You could tweet that, but you’d miss the other 7,400 characters.

Come to think of it, how would history’s greatest speakers have done with today’s Twitter?

Let’s look at a few.

Winston Churchill gave three famous speeches in 1940, brilliantly inspiring the British against the Nazis: “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” was the first, then “We shall fight on the beaches,” then “This was their finest hour.”

Just one sentence from the second speech, the most impassioned, is 141 words, or 736 characers.

How memorable could that have been, gutted for TwitterSpeak?

We’ll give Churchill his own Twitter account – and, uh, please don’t forget those hashtags, Mr. Prime Minister:

British Bulldog

@winstonchurchill • 3 h

We shall fight on seas and oceans. #DefendOurIsland. We shall fight on the #beaches. Shall carry on until @U.S. comes to help #BeatTheNazis! 

Loses a little something in translation, doesn’t it?

Remember FDR’s radio address after Pearl Harbor? “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan … ”

Radio was the Twitter of his age, but how would Roosevelt adjust today?

The Real FDR

@franklindelanoroosevelt • 1 m

Told #USCongress just now: Yesterday, 12/7/41 #DateToLiveInInfamy. #EmpireofJapan deliberately attacked U.S. #Payback! #RememberPearlHarbor! 

Gets the point across. But loses the details – not to mention the poetry.

Perhaps no American speaker has had more rhetorical flourishes than our own Patrick Henry. His 1775 “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech at St. John’s Church was majestic.

Today, though, Henry would have been tweeting to get the word out:

Hanover Pat

@patrickhenryRVA • 1 h

Good meet at #RVA. #WarIsBegun. Peace so sweet, to be bought with chains & slavery? #NoWay! DK about you; give me #LIBERTY or give me death. 

Lou Gehrig, dying of the disease that would one day be given his name, told the Yankee Stadium crowd in 1939: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

Even that short segment is almost twice the allotted length. Today all he could say to reach his fans personally:

Iron Horse

@lougehrig • 3 h

#BadNews #Retirement. You know about #BadBreak. Today I consider myself #LuckiestMan on face of the earth. 17 yrs. of kindness. #ThanksFans!. 

Probably the most succinct great speech in American history is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Just 272 words.

Even that turns out to be nearly 1,500 characters, though. Lincoln’s memorable first sentence – “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” – by itself is way over-length.

Lincoln is the one who could probably have made it work, though:

Honest Abe

@abrahamlincoln • 15 m

87 yrs ago #NewNation of #EqualMen. World won’t note what we say @ #Gettysburg. But Govt of, by, for the people, shall not perish. #GoodTimes!  


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