Twitter’s 140-character microblogging platform was revolutionary when Jack Dorsey and friends introduced it in 2006. But microblogging was already very popular in the 19th century,said Lee Humphreys, assistant professor of communication, at Cornell University.

She detailed the relationship between historical and contemporary media in  lecture on campus.”To submit a message on Twitter, it has to be under 140 characters,” Humphreys said. “These are not paragraphs; these are barely even sentences … I was really interested in who does this and why do they do it, as well as what it means to be communicating in this way.”

Humphreys has explored blogging as a means of expressing one’s self, and eventually found herself studying traditional diaries, which had a similar purpose. Diaries, particularly prior to the 19th century, she discovered, were social: People shared their diaries to document family and community events.

“There are clear analogue examples that helped me to understand why someone would opt into 140 characters … Twitter users took that invitation to limit their text [opposed to other social media outlets], and found it, in fact, very liberating,” Humphreys explained.
Humphreys spoke as part of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions lecture series.