The National Constitution Center has begun a project that it claims will promote “civic engagement”. The gimmick: While presidential candidates get the chance, several times a day, to express their visions for American democracy using thousands of words, engagement by American citizens is best when restricte to just six words – six words.
The center is asking American citizens to express their political thoughts in just six words. My entry in project: Six words is not free speech.
When the Internet began in the 1990s, online expression was a long form. People wrote manifestos and long articles, or created large, complicated sites to express their ideas.
Now, much of the focus online has shifted to extremely short forms of expression through networks described as “social media”. Twitter allows just under 150 characters. Facebook has devolved mostly into postings and repostings of little graphic memes. Pinterest specializes exlusively in the genre of pictures of stuff people want.
Has the proliferation of these brief forms of expression increased engagement, political or otherwise? No, to the contrary, engagement seems to have become more shallow, with people growing accustomed to merely clicking that they “like” something.
Quick utterances have proliferated, not because people are more engaged, but because they are seeking to become more physically mobile, and have replaced laptops with keyboards with little touchscreen machines that make extensive typing impossible. It’s become exhausting for people on so-called “smart phones” to write more than 144 characters… or more than six words.
The National Constitution Center never explains the benefit of American citizens restricting their political speech to just six words, but it seems to be a way of trying to get attention to people while they’re out and about with a handheld device, looking for something to do.
This latest indulgence in grunting political speech is in opposition to the attitude of the people who founded the United States of America. Back in the late 1700s, Americans wrote a Bill of Rights that began with the guarantee of unrestricted speech. The Constitution is over 7,500 words long.
Would the National Constitution Center see that document reduced to six words as well?