Tweeting For Homework

Tweet: “@professorsmith The rhetor’s use of imagery and metaphor exemplifies the protagonist’s creative struggle through life.”

Sounds a little farfetched, I know, but there’s a growing trend in our society today that could very well lead to the tweeted essay. Granted, the likelihood of any educational institute using Twitter for any grade-based assignments is pretty slim, but the underlying ideas are the same.

Essays are getting shorter.

If you’ve ever had to sit down on a Saturday afternoon and crank out a 10-page-paper on Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man,” the above might not sound like too bad of an idea. After a certain point, anyhow, it seems like essays become so much fluff and redundant detail that writing more than a page or two is fairly pointless, serving only to waste more time for both the student and the professor who has to read it. Taking into account the vast hordes of students on UC campuses, and the sardine-can nature of the crowded writing classes here at UCI, the positive benefits of such a trend are easy enough to envision.

With shorter essays becoming standard, teachers will be able to finish grading in a much more timely matter, allowing more class time for actual teaching and devoting less time to grading and peer review. More students could be permitted into the packed writing classes, alleviating some of the all-too-frantic class attempts to sign up, especially for us first-years. And acknowledging that most essays are printed at least twice, shorter essays mean massively reduced paper waste, which makes for a greener campus and a less wasteful lifestyle.

In the case of the students themselves, shorter papers do not necessarily lead to worse writers. In fact, by writing shorter and shorter papers, students learn to rely less on fluff and unnecessary details. Students focus on becoming superior rhetors, developing clear and concise language that directly applies to the situation. Shorter papers would effectively eliminate the ever frustrating and overly extended metaphor, a common crutch of students who really aren’t sure what to say next. While a one-sentence essay does sound absurdly short, it is not entirely valueless; when limited to 15-20 words, a student is forced to develop a powerful idea that stands raw and true without tons of support. In the best-case scenario, the short-essay trend will breed a new generation of writers, a generation of “Super-Rhetors.”

As for the worst-case scenario, the short-essay trend will eliminate the field of creative and persuasive writing, and we will exist in an “Idiocracy”-type dystopian future where all sense of writing skill and genuine rhetoric has vanished. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the inherent danger really is there. It’s a slippery slope. While in a just and righteous ideal world, brevity would lend itself to conciseness and inspiration, it may in fact lead to a prevalence of “e-speak” and an increase in laziness, even outside of the writing field. Social networking sites inflate lazy writing and belay devotion to proper grammar.

Today, school is the counterbalance to that world, demanding a rigorous attention to detail and enforcing an honest improvement in poor writing skills. If universities allow that text-lingo laziness to bleed through into the world of college writing, there will no longer be a middle ground. The students who don’t care about writing will still not care about writing, but in a world of one-sentence essays, it will be a hell of a lot easier for them to continue not caring. Anyone can write a single intellectual sentence, given a smidgeon of hard work and some inspiration. If that fails, one can always turn to the Internet; read articles already in existence, take the main idea and change the words. It’s still plagiarism, but I can already see it escaping the slowly degrading watchful eyes of the system.

At the moment, yes, the displeasure at short papers is mostly overreaction. For now, students should simply enjoy the brief reprieve when a paper is dropped in length and take mild delight in the incredibly rare “one-sentence essay.” There is no grave danger. Your IQ will not dwindle simply because you wrote less than 2,000 words, and your professor honestly does need a break from reading all of them. But if I may impart a brief warning, to recall the dangers of where this slippery slope may lead: if your professor asks you to Tweet him an essay, it’s already too late.

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.