Social media, the decline of eloquent speech, and effectiveness betrayed

In this age of social media, I find it ironic when an attempt by a site to convey a message (and when, on down the line, the message is shared, soooo many times) betrays something at the core of the message itself. Take for example this quote (which I’ve seen recently, via shares from the “Character Counts” site):


What some folks may not realize is that this is actually not a Lincoln quote, but an attempt to paraphrase something Lincoln said much more eloquently. The actual quote comes from a speech (The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions) delivered by Lincoln delivered in 1838 (at the Young Men’s Lyceum, of Springfield, Illinois):

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

Now some folks might say, “Well, but the meme pretty much sums up what Lincoln said, and it’s relevant to today. You’re being nit-picky. No harm, no foul.”

While Lincoln’s actual speech might be relevant to today’s political situation, I disagree with the manner in which it was delivered in a meme.

Compare the two… the meme against the actual quote. What is lost in the dumbing down or oversimplification of the original quote?

For one, if you’re going to paraphrase something from history, tell folks you’re paraphrasing. Don’t put it out there to leave people to assume that it is the actual quote. I find that a bit dishonest (well, at least if the person who created the meme knows the real quote, and in some cases, the actual context in which it was delivered).

Second… do we sacrifice the eloquence… the absolute brilliance of wordsmithing… for the sake of getting a basic message across? What’s lost in doing so? Incidentally, regarding the brilliance of wordsmithing, Lincoln’s Lyceum speech was later published in the Sangamon Journal to help establish… wait for it… his reputation as an orator. Kudos for the creator of the meme in butchering a well-crafted assembly of words, and encouraging the dumbing-down of society via social media.

Last… as I mentioned earlier… I find the meme betrays something at the core of the message delivered. If one is reaching to the past to find something relevant to today, it seems to me that butchering the original quote diminishes the effectiveness of what is trying to be conveyed. While I encourage brevity in the digital space, in this case I have to wonder… is the sacrifice of something genuine and original worth the mere accumulation of “likes” and “shares” that are, in the end… meaningless?

In short… my pet peeve of the day.


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