Odds are you've noticed people — probably much younger than you — manically using Twitter, a tool that lets you post brief updates about your everyday thoughts and activities to the Web via browser, cell phone, or IM. The messages are limited to 140 characters, so they lean toward pithy, haiku-like utterances. When I dropped by the main Twitter page, people had posted notes like "Doing lunch and picking up father-in-law from senior center."Privacy is so 20th century. The 21st century is about radical transparency.
But the true value of Twitter — and the similarly mundane Dodgeball, a tool for reporting your real-time location to friends — is cumulative. The power is in the surprising effects that come from receiving thousands of pings from your posse.
When I see that my friend Misha is "waiting at Genius Bar to send my MacBook to the shop," that's not much information. But when I get such granular updates every day for a month, I know a lot more about her. And when my four closest friends and worldmates send me dozens of updates a week for five months, I begin to develop an almost telepathic awareness of the people most important to me.
For example, when I meet Misha for lunch after not having seen her for a month, I already know the wireframe outline of her life: She was nervous about last week's big presentation, got stuck in a rare spring snowstorm, and became addicted to salt bagels. With Dodgeball, I never actually race out to meet a friend when they report their nearby location; I just note it as something to talk about the next time we meet.
It's almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when applied to your work life. You know who's overloaded — better not bug Amanda today — and who's on a roll. A buddy list isn't just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.