The allure of Twitter, the latest Web sensation.

Culture and technology.
April 10 2007 4:15 PM

What Are You Doing?

The allure of Twitter, the latest Web sensation.

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Watching Twittervision is akin to sitting at a sidewalk cafe and letting a slightly nerdier version of the real world go by. Active twittering is getting up onstage for open-mic night. Ego-wise, it's both deflating and affirming. Do my friends really care what I am doing? Unlike open-mic nights, getting tweets from people is enjoyable. There is a pleasant sense of faint connection, as if you are standing silently next to them. It's also a quick shot of empathy: You imagine where they are and what they might be seeing. Because Twitter reaches into phones and computers or wherever a person might be, it's intimate, a friendly buzz in the pocket. I suspect this goodwill is mostly due to my uncluttered Twitter life: no spam, no work e-mail, no need to reply, and no ads. That last part will likely change. Obvious, the San Francisco company behind Twitter, will obviously want to make money.

The Twitter downsides are also obvious. Prufrock mourned how he had measured out his life in coffee spoons, and Twitter can be nothing more than an hourly confirmation of our pointless daily round. And, as a friend explained, there is a Heisenberg Uncertainty problem with the site. The correct answer to "What are you doing now?" is always "Typing something into Twitter." But I suspect that it's the open-ended charisma of that question that is propelling the Twitter phenomenon. Life is filled with distraction, and here is this simple Web site asking us to stop and think: "What are you doing?" It's micro-therapy, 14 times a day. Or a new kind of Zen koan. Is it possible to twitter yourself to enlightenment? Twitter is asking us to pay attention, to account for our time, and even to gather a sense of our purpose and usefulness in this world.

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Or, maybe not. Maybe everyone sounds profound at 140 characters.

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.