Vine, sound bites and our obsession with brevity


If you couldn’t say it in less than 10 seconds, it wasn’t heard because it wasn’t aired” – Michael Dukakis, 1988 Presidential candidate

By the time you’ve finished reading this sentence, almost six seconds will have passed and precisely 140 characters will have been exhausted.

Vine is the latest addition to the world of social media, offering a service that enables users to create a six-second video which can be shared with their social network.

It’s been widely welcomed by PR and marketing professionals as a tool which offers a great way (and sufficient time) for brands to convey their message, “tell a story and a start a conversation”.

Advocates of social media frequently laud its speed, brevity and immediacy as the driving forces behind its growth.

However, the media’s obsession with Twitter often misses one of the most important attributes of the internet: space.

The impact of social media on politics

Even before Ted Turner changed politics by introducing 24-hour news networks, politicians and political commentators bemoaned the media’s obsession with sound bites.

The huge centralisation of power in newspapers and TV meant that only a few voices dominated the political conversation.

However, the internet now provides the space for speeches that are no longer printed in newspapers or broadcast on TV to appear.

In the past, the only opportunity to hold politicians to account outside an election was a public meeting, in which only a handful of questions were answered.

However, on a news site or blog, comments can be thick and rich and go on for a very long time.

Blogs also offer the time to reflect and write at length; an action that’s discouraged by the ephemeral nature of Twitter, character limits and trending topics.

Democracy in action

Social media also enables new voices, and even experts who were previously unable to voice their opinion in the media, the opportunity to hold the press and broadcasters to account.

Twitter is creating a huge democratic revolution and voices are multiplying at an unprecedented rate. Like Vine, its strength comes from its enforced conciseness.

However, it’s important to remind ourselves that Twitter links to other forms of social media where brevity isn’t a problem and the space to explore and challenge ideas in more depth is provided.

It may be easier to grab attention, and even get people talking, through Vines, gifs and tweets, but it’s much harder to hold their attention and, in particular, to encourage them to think.

In social media, less doesn’t always have to be more.