One of the recent additions to my work and play life is an online social media site called “twitter.” The site and its associated culture are a phenomenon, hot and getting hotter. As a participant, aka “twitterer,” you agree to an interesting constraint: all posts to update the status statement, “What are you doing?” must be 140 keystrokes or less. To give you an idea what that is, if this paragraph were a twitter update, it would have stopped after the word “culture” in the second sentence. (Actually, that’s 138 keystrokes.) You see the challenge?
Yet despite this constraint, millions of people worldwide now twitter. Within the 140-keystroke limit, known as a “tweet,” twitterers share business and personal resources, music, movie and restaurant reviews, publicize upcoming events, comment on the news, ask and respond to questions, compliment and acknowledge their friends, and offer support in trying times. I’ve been amazed at the creativity and humor that are able to flower under this constraint, and at how large my world is becoming, getting to know people 140 keystrokes at a time. Twitter is growing because of this limitation, not in spite of it.
You can’t help but notice: in 140 keystrokes, you have to make your point quickly. You don’t waste strokes on unneeded spaces or redundancy. You use short words and abbreviations. You don’t try to say everything you know about a subject. Now that it’s the holidays, I’ve had an amusing cocktail party fantasy: cornered by the creepy office guy or the inappropriate sales pitch, escape is just 140 keystrokes away. THAT could be a wonderful world. . .
You don’t need to worry: the tweet will not replace the doctoral dissertation, nor the great novel. Moshe Feldenkrais often showed how behaviors that are useful in one situation are not necessarily useful in every situation. Twitterers realize this fully. Each tweet is an introduction, a curiosity-inducer, and an invitation to sample more in another format, like a someone’s blog or another website of interest. Feldenkrais based his work in movement and human development around the exploration of constraints, and the power of SMALL actions. (You can click here to download some short examples in audio mp3 format.)
I’ve learned through exploring constraints via the Feldenkrais Method, that a constraint is neither good, nor bad: it just IS. Now what will you do? Your habitual pattern of action probably won’t work under the new conditions. What else could you do? Is there another way? Slowly, easily, gently, humorously, a little bit at a time, something new, interesting, and useful emerges. A new possibility is created.
I think both twitter and the Feldenkrais Method have a lot to offer us now, in what many acknowledge to be difficult times. A constraint can be a limitation, but only if you struggle against it and keep doing what you’ve always done. Small changes, added incrementally, mindfully, yet lightly, can make a huge difference. In problem-solving, you might be tempted to spend your energy on removing the constraint. This may or may not be possible. A more interesting solution is to work with the constraint, embrace it, and let imagination and experimentation reveal new possibilities.
If you take the long view, life itself is a “tweet.” We have one life, or one life right now, depending on your viewpoint. If it’s just going to be 140 keystrokes, how do you want to spend them?
Follow MaryBeth on twitter: http://twitter.com/divamover