Chris Dunn- Thornton’s Tweetstorm

“Why,” said he, “the Americans are getting their yarns so into the general market, that our only chance is producing them at a lower rate. If we can’t, we may shut up shop at once, and hands and masters go alike on tramp. Yet these fools go back to the prices paid three years ago- nay, some of their leaders quote Dickinson’s prices now- though they know as well as we do that, what with fines pressed out of their wages as no honourable man would extort them, and other ways which I for one would scorn to use, the real rate of wage paid at Dickinson’s is less than at ours. Upon my word, mother, I wish the old combination- laws were in force. It is too bad to find out that fools- ignorant wayward men like these- just by uniting their weak silly heads, are to rule over the fortunes of those who bring all the wisdom and knowledge and experience, and often painful thought and anxiety, can give. The next thing will be- indeed, we’re all but come it now- that we shall go and ask- stand hat in hand- and humbly ask the secretary of the Spinner’ Union to be so kind as to furnish us with labor at their own price. That’s what they want- they, who haven’t the sense to see that, if we don’t get a fair share of the profits to compensate us for our wear and tear here in England, we can move off to some other country; and that, what with home and foreign competition, we are none of us likely to make a fair share, and may be thankful enough if we can get that, in an average number of years.” North and South pp 144-145

Tweetstorm version:

@john_thornton: “1. I’d like to talk about striking workers, yarn trade, and monopolistic competition.”

@john_thornton: “2. The protesters in Milton that are asking for higher wages generally don’t know what they’re talking about. This is very dangerous.”

@john_thornton: “3. Textiles in Milton are a classic example of external economies of scale. They’re all produced in the same place.

@john_thornton: “4. As American goods are flooding the market, it’s becoming necessary for British owners to lower their prices. This is what the strikers…”

@john_thornton: “5. … don’t get. The prices they think owners are charging haven’t been used in years. This is why we can’t let random be idiots in charge.”

@john_thornton: “6. Of course, there’s an answer for this. The Crown used to enforce Combination Laws which could do away with this.

@john_thornton: “7. Having these laws keeps the workers, generally uneducated, from being able to make important decisions. After all, why should we…”

@john_thornton: “8. … have to answer to them? The protests are a prime example of know- nothing workers, who are also far too violent.”

@john_thornton: “9. The owners need profits, or else they’d just offshore their production. This is what the workers don’t get. Wages have to be lowered.”

@john_thornton: “10. But that still is better than nothing. Is it better for them to have the American factories dominate? For us to move offshore?”

@john_thornton: “11. This is what I don’t get about these people. They have no clue what they’re talking about. They’re hurting themselves.”

@john_thornton: “12. tl;dr The protesters don’t understand economics, and are going to end up unemployed in the long run. END THREAD”

I knew from the beginning of the assignment that I wanted to create a “tweetstorm”, because I follow a number of journalists/ political thinkers on Twitter, and so it is hard to avoid these rants on my feed. The tweetstorms I’m referring to are long, essay- like, sets of tweets about a topic generally given by a so called “expert”. This is a bit of a more ridiculous example, but useful nonetheless.

In this translation, Thornton’s conversation style was lost, since there is an obvious difference between how one talks to their mother and how a professional might try and describe policy on their twitter account. However, I was able to keep some of Thornton’s disdain for workers. After all, these are tweets on his private blog, rather than something like an academic paper, so I was able to do things like call the workers “random idiots”.

One advantage that comes about with twitter is the ability to use links. In our copy of North and South, there is a footnote in the back of the book that sort of explains what the Combination Act was, however, I doubt such a note existed in the original text. Therefore, a reader who isn’t familiar with British labor policy at the turn of the nineteenth century is left clueless about what Thornton is referring to. By being able to include a link about these laws, as well as about external economies of scale/ monopolistic competition, twitter makes communication about difficult topics easier. Writers can reference these issues within their tweets without having to fully explain them. This saves space and allows for readers to get much more info from an article written precisely about these topics. If someone were to read the above tweets with their links, they’d presumably get much more out of the experience than if they had just read the passage from the book.

I think Thornton’s rant fits very nicely into the form most tweetstorms have. In reading his original argument, where he constantly cuts himself off and interjects, the word that comes to mind is “rant”. Thornton wasn’t writing an op- ed or a thesis about international trade. Instead, he was throwing out his thoughts as they came to him. This is exactly the point of twitter. There are obviously other outlets for most journalists/ policy thinkers to articulate their thoughts on a topic, but they turn to twitter when they are trying to be quick. There is also the obvious factor that what Thornton is talking about is inherently political/ economic, and the points he brings up are still pertinent today. It would not be unreasonable to come across the string of tweets above today.

The fundamental point to twitter is that the tweets are not long. Each one can hold a maximum of 140 characters. However, with the “tweetstorm” one is able to go past the restriction. After all, word/ character counts don’t really matter when you can tweet however many times you want.