"Do you Twitter?"
Last week I asked my co-worker that, and he said with a groan, "I'm trying not to." Apparently I was not the first to ask. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who spends any significant amount of time online who hasn't been asked that question ... several times. I joined Twitter in March, tried using Jabber to connect (which works ... sometimes), downloaded Twitterific (which works ... mostly), and spent long, long hours trying to figure out how Twitter can in fact be relevant to my life. I found some bon mots, but despite the evangelizing wisdom I've seen out there, Twitter still strikes me much like its real-world analog: pleasant noise in moderate levels, but a cacophonous mass of Too Much in larger doses. (The Twitter server seems to agree.)
Lest you think I'm just a cat sullenly gazing up at the tree full of conversation, I have a theory....
Way back when, travel was done only with a purpose. First you had a purpose, then you decided to travel. I recall reading Edvart Rolvaags frontier novel, Giants of the Earth, struck by the hardship of the day-to-day-life, living in a mudhut, working by hand on hard prairie soil. To go on a visit was an extraordinary effort, often taking days or weeks.
The transportation explosion changed things, and the habit that once had been the exclusive province of the aristocracy became the practice of regular folks: the social visit. First you decided to visit, then you figured out what to talk about, what to do.
Before Gutenberg, written communication was just for the rich. But even as the printing press spread throughout the land, publishing was enough of an ordeal that you didn't undertake it without a purpose.
Then "desktop publishing" came along, and sending out a newsletter took only a ream of paper and a stamp (or intra-office mail).
Communications used to be a real hassle. The Napoleonic may have brought us War 2.0 in the form of artillery and total war, but communication dispatches had to be conveyed by ship or horse (or Horse 2.0) or semaphore. It might take months or years for a message to find its destination ... if it made it at all.
Then wireless came and changed everything, much to the displeasure of gentlemen businessmen accustomed to working three months out of the year and navy captains not wanting to hear from their admirals on a regular basis. Communication across great distances became easier, and while perhaps never totally casual, certainly much more common than before.
In the early days of the telephone, a similar thing happened for wire communications. Telegrams were expensive and involved a precious amount of work.