If you peruse social networking sites, online magazines and blogs on a regular basis, you’re likely to notice something—quotations are everywhere. When you log into your Facebook account, you’re unlikely to spend more than 30 seconds scrolling through your newsfeed before being “hit” with one. The same goes for Twitter feeds. If aliens existed, and they were to land on our planet and go through our Internet browsing histories, they would likely conclude that we, as a society, are quotation-obsessed. But what is it about these snatches of written or spoken word, sometimes originating more than several thousand years ago, that pique our interest so much? Sometimes, we’re drawn to certain quotations because they’ve come from well-known authors, musicians, actors, politicians and the like. But sometimes the ones that catch our attention haven’t arisen from those sources, so our reasons for enjoying them must add up to more than that.
The first, and probably most obvious reason people seem to enjoy quotations, sources notwithstanding, is because many of them are inspirational. With increasing demands to work longer hours and stay connected to technology, we can get so exhausted it becomes difficult for us to find the motivation to chug through our daily tasks in a productive manner. For the fifth or so of us who suffer from anxiety or depression, this becomes even harder. However, when we log onto social media and see, “Even if you fall flat on your face, you’re still moving forward” (Victor Kiam), or, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them” (George Bernard Shaw) pop up on our screens, this can give us that extra kick of motivation we need. On the other hand, quotes about things like meditation or relaxation can reassure us that it’s OK to take a break from the “rat race” when we truly do need to rest.
Another reason people enjoy reading and posting quotations online is because they feel like those who originally wrote or orated the quotations can express what they’re feeling or thinking better than they can themselves. Have you ever felt a jumble of mixed-up emotions, and then heard a line in a song or read a line in a poem, and thought, “Wow, that’s exactly how I feel!” Yet, you possibly wouldn’t have been able to express your feelings quite as eloquently as the songwriter or poet, or being not a songwriter or poet yourself, may not have been as confident about doing so. So due to insecurity or inability, perhaps you stuck with the songwriter or poet’s words when you expressed yourself, as a lot of people seem to. The safe choice is often the popular one.
Using quotations can also connect people. In arts classes, ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and more recent literary geniuses like Dickens and Shakespeare are still major players in high school and university curricula. Consequently, many of us end up appreciating these profound quotations and when we find others who appreciate or take the same interpretation of a particular quotation as we do, these connections can spark the beginning of friendships.
Revisiting the idea of the expression of feelings, online posting of quotations by individuals also allows us to see that others may feel the same way as us about relationships, friendships, sexuality and the like; this too builds bridges between people (of course, being exposed to the quotations of those who think differently doesn’t hurt, and is often beneficial to the expansion of our mental perspectives, even if it doesn’t result in any new connections).
I once spoke to someone who was very much against using quotations (including lyrics from songs) on websites and social media. Basically, this person said, “You’re stealing their words. You don’t know what they really meant when they said those things. You’re just presenting your interpretation.” While these are points I definitely listened to, and took into consideration, I don’t think they constitute an argument that justifies stopping using quotations within these mediums altogether. I never claim to be presenting an objectively truthful interpretation of a particular quotation, and most other people don’t, either. Everyone’s free to post and discuss what they think a quotation means, so it’s not like the online world is being restricted to only a narrow range of viewpoints. While it’s great to stretch our minds by trying to come up with our own ways to express our thoughts and feelings, the emotional and social benefits of sharing quotations (while, of course, crediting their sources) outweigh the strength of the concerns. Would Plato himself smile or cringe, as we type out his potent words and paste them on top of a cityscape or a gorgeous flower? That we’ll never know—too bad we can’t go back in time and ask him!
Read another interpretation on quotations in BUMPER STICKER WISDOM: Lessons learned from the back of a car>>