There was a sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus where contestants on a TV game show had to summarize Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu in 15 seconds. Impossible of course, though the first contestant does make a reasonable attempt. Now with the advent of Twitter and YouTube this idea has really taken off.
First there were all those wonderful five second YouTube versions of movies like Rocky, Titanic, Lord of the Rings and Die Hard (see a cavalcade of them). In a world where attention spans are shrinking fast, Twitter seems to encapsulate the mood and tweeters are now summarizing literary classics in 140 characters (haven't seen a Twitter version of Proust yet). I can't help quoting the Twitter version of Moby Dick:
Bloke goes bonkers pursuing large white whale across oceans and ends up harpooned to its side. Moral: don't become a fisherman. (See more at Daily Telegraph Twitter literature: Bloke goes bonkers pursuing whale)
Furthermore, two students at the University of Chicago are about to publish a book (yes, a book!) called Twitterature full of very brief summaries of classic novels
There's a nice post on TechCrunch (Short is sweet) about the background to the current craze for short messages, tracing Twitter back to SMS and even postcards. Evidently the 140 character restriction on Twitter and the 160 limit on cellphone texts relate to the length of the average postcard message of days gone by (Having a time. Wish you were lovely etc etc).
All good fun of course but I wonder if we are sacrificing developed argument for bite-sized quotes and knee-jerk reactions. Is this another sign of homo zapiens restlessness or can we find new creative uses for the short message medium? How about Twitter poetry - maybe a modern version of the haiku?