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Doin' Nothing. More Later


A while back, we described some of the Internet's "social networks," as they're called. On certain Web sites, young people, in particular, swap gossip, photographs, and secrets, which of course are no longer secret the moment they're posted.

Psychologists say this behavior is part of most every kid's desire to have friends and be popular. Because young Americans have been raised in today's maelstrom of information sources, they rarely spend much time on anything. Their Internet messages back and forth are cryptic and laden with shorthand slang. Why waste precious time typing the words "by the way" when the three letters "btw" mean the same thing?

And the extreme in instant communication may be at hand on hot new Web sites such as "Twitter."

Twitter calls itself a "community of friends and strangers answering one, simple question: 'What are you doing?'" The entire site is nothing but microbursts of text, like, "It's raining in Riverton. Not much, but something." Or, "Off to a client meeting." Great literature or deep conversation, this is not. These blips are slapped onto the Web so fast, their arrival time is noted to the second: "five seconds ago," "half a minute ago," and so forth.

To the casual eye, this parade of messages, each no more than 140 characters long -- you for five seconds, then me, then Joe in Nebraska, then Sue in Utah, and so on, rat-a-tat-tat, every moment of the day and night -- seems disjointed, even absurd. But taken together, they may make some sense. Twitter users can click on the sender's name and read all of his or her recent nuggets.

"Short-form communications," the whole thing is called. As quick -- and maybe as bereft of meaning -- as the snap of a finger.