I think Twitter may be getting dumber

200px-ShakespeareOver the weekend, I posted this Tweet on Twitter:

“Where hast thou been, sister?” “slaying salmon” @akgovsarahpalin I love my high faloutin’ English degree.

It was raucously funny because to understand the joke, you would have had to have read MacBeth and at some point in your life, when asked “where have you been?” you would have had to have fought hard to suppress the desire to answer with “killing swine.”

NOBODY retweeted, nobody came back with similar jokes. Nothing. A year ago, I would have seen half a dozen RT and LOL tweets.

But, here is the joke that is not funny.

I suspect nobody got the joke because more and more, Shakespeare is becoming less and less part of our “community connective tissue.” At a certain time, perhaps before Wikipedia, most college-educated folks had at least a cursory knowledge of the major works of Shakespeare. We knew things like “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace…” and “Out, out damned spot!” Moreover, we knew what it all meant and the meaning had some universality. Now, when quoting Shakespeare, you just get blank stares from recently-minted college grads.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that the smart, clever, educated people are leaving Twitter. I know as a nation, we are getting dumber and dumber. We’re kind of even proud of it.

But, most of me desperately hopes I am wrong.

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8 Replies to “I think Twitter may be getting dumber”

  1. Hey! *I’m* on twitter! I have to admit that I didn’t get that joke however…sorry…Macbeth was never my thing although I do recognize out out damned spot. Do I get 1/2 credit for that at least?

  2. I’ll admit that I didn’t see your tweet; I’ll also admit that if I had, I probably would have been among the masses who didn’t get it. Give me Hamlet, give me Lear, give me Othello and I’ll probably be one of the first to speak up and cheer, but my memory of MacBeth is hazy, at best. I do recall some of the passages and quotes, but this one slipped by me.

    I feel like a failed English major. Gah. 😉

    Nice post!

  3. I’m with Barrie — and I even have a high-faloutin’ lit degree (PhD) and have read Macbeth a couple of times. I didn’t get the allusion.

    I think Shakespeare will always be relevant to a certain extent — but if he isn’t, that’s not the sole criterion by which to judge intelligence or wit. Punning Twitter aliases alone — e.g. DuncanNonuts — make me sure that cleverness lives on.

  4. @Edie Not the sole criterion. I also use Steinbeck, Dreiser, Conrad, Joyce, Twain (Clemens, either or) and Milton in a pinch, but only as a last resort when everyone is drunk because, well, it’s Milton! 🙂 Shakespeare will always be relevant, even if we have to dip into him to write some lyrics for a choral group in a Harry Potter movie (Act IV, Scene 1 of MacBeth.. again “Something wicked this way comes.”) or just rely on making private jokes in our heads that spill out on Twitter.

  5. for what it’s worth, most people don’t recognize the Caddyshack, Blazing Saddles, and Animal House references I make, either. I think it’s more an issue of people not paying attention. But then again, I remember a lot of stuff that I have no good reason to. I’ve never read MacBeth and I knew that was Shakespeare.

  6. @norcross But the difference is that those references are those of pop culture, whereas Shakespeare is part of the literary Canon that used to be part of a quality education. Take a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NastRepublicanElephant.jpg read the caption. Use a Shakespeare reference in a political cartoon now and you get blank stares. College is no longer a place for an “education.” It is a place to get career training. A BA is almost not distinguishable from a HVAC certificate. They just do different stuff, but one is no more “educated” than the other.

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