I first heard of tap code 15 years ago, during an interview with Gerald Coffee, a Vietnam Vet and former prisoner of war. By memorizing this simple chart to the left, POWs could communicate with one another by lightly tapping on the cell walls separating them.
It’s easiest to demonstrate tap code through audio, so listen to this short (less than a minute) little demonstration by pressing the “play” button.
Can you imagine trying to convey meaning with such a primitive device, especially in today’s world of instant communications? But that’s when Captain Coffee said something that has stayed with me for all of these years. He said that the best conversations he’s ever had were transmitted via tap code. Wow.
We’re not very good at brevity, are we? I’m guilty of it. Just look at this post. I’m already at 142 words (812 characters) PLUS an audio file, and I’m still not not done yet! We’re spoiled. We don’t think before we write. With all of our advanced Web2.0 widgets, text, audio, and video resources, we’ve become lazy communicators.
Today, there are more creators distributing their content around the world than at any other time in human history. And that number will only go up from here. The pendulum has swung. We’re all suffering from Cyber-hyperventillation.
The main advantage of a service like Twitter (when its actually online) is the fact that it demands brevity. By forcing users to transmit their thoughts in 140 characters or less, words must be used economically; users must write, rewrite, and pare messages to their very essence. It’s not impossible. We just need to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Stan Freberg once described everything a writer needs to know about writing — and he only used 39 characters to do so.
“The perfect word. The perfect sentence.”
Stowe Boyd and Brian Solis have suggested a way to tidy up our digital clutter. MicroPR challenges PR professionals to “Pitch a story in 140 characters or less.” Brilliant. Tapping out tautology. Haiku-ing out hyperbole.
In the age of instant communications, how can we use the lessons of tap code, the constraints of 140 characters, and the words of Mr. Freberg to better communicate with one another?
What can you communicate in 140 characters or less?