For all its seminal disruptiveness, Twitter follows in the footsteps (fingersteps?) of Morse code, the telegram, smoke signals, sign language and other communication truncation strategems. Brevity has always been treasured: the long shadow of Hemingway’s style, still influential whatever the fluctuation in the author’s reputation, is still cast by virtue of his prose’s distinct terseness. The greatest accomplishments in concision are, of course, knowing glances, which occur between sympathetic thinkers and require no words at all. Indeed, as a communications style utter silence is enormously powerful: no one has heard from God in a while, for instance, and this authoritative reticence has worked wonders for His reputation throughout the world. Never have so many people on earth believed in God’s existence.
So what is the shortest communication on record–between humans? Any enterprising Twitter user will doubtless cast an envious eye upon the following minuscule correspondence from 1842. Victor Hugo was on vacation when Les Misérables was published, but could not wait to learn about its reception. He sent a telegram to his publisher that read in full: “?” Having a hit on his hands in Paris, the publisher sent back: “!”