Saturday, 30 January 2016

Twitter - Print: Scriptors & Commentors evolving...

Twitter narratives appear to be carving a new wave in certain areas of communicating fiction, but there are some interesting overlaps with earlier waves of changes in communication technology. When the printing press was first being used there were a variety of roles that emerged, perhaps we are seeing some similar roles emerging with Twitter?

Printing Press in the Royal Library of Belgium - RO Rossier (2012)

According to Eisenstein, there were four different scribal roles associated with manuscript preparation. Scriptors to transcribed documents without making any editorial changes. Compilators transcribing documents and adding the words of benefactors. A commentator transcribing documents and adding personal comments and conjecture. An auctor (author) writing their own intellectual creations but also incorporating the works of others in the body of their work (Eisenstein, 1983, p. 85). In other words, manuscripts were often evolving documents, not static documents. 

Similarly, Twitter narratives are evolving to have a number of roles and are evolving documents. Examples include writers who Tweet stories, and compilers who scrape Tweets to recreate and reframe stories. Some Twitter users are content to reTweet without adding their own content or perspectives, others engage in a value-adding process; but there are profoundly similar components of the way we communicate digitally now, compared to how we communicated centuries ago. Our brains have not evolved as fast as our technology... 

The key differences between Twitter narrative and traditional print narrative include: speed of publication, multimodality, and audience.

Speed: While books might take years to write, layout, design, print, and distribute; Tweets take seconds. Andrew Fitzgerald gives an excellent description of real-time story telling and our capacity to produce and distribute Twitter narratives very quickly.

Multimodality: While books have variation in size, shape, binding, font, paper, ink; Tweets might include video, sound, images and links to other much more interactive media, like the Westwing Twitter accounts. Books traditionally communicate to readers, but Twitter narratives can have communication between any combination of writers, commenters and readers.

Audience: Books have an audience limited to the holder of the book, and even with e-books there is normally a limitation in the number of people who can receive a book. Readers do not need to be Twitter users to read Tweets, however they do need computer and internet access, as well as a level of computer literacy.


Eisenstein, E. L. (1983). The printing revolution in early modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fitzgerald, A. (2013). “Adventures in Twitter Fiction, Ted Talks, 

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