Thanks to "microblogging," the slightest bits of detritus from people's lives are steadily flowing into the maw of the Internet, enabling a new wave of communication where no detail is too mundane or brief to share.
The idea, born of the confessional nature of personal blogging, is to capture fleeting thoughts or briefly record a moment of the day, sharing them instantly with friends in a line or two via the Web or a mobile phone text message. Microblogging, through such sites as Twitter, is a way to connect for a generation that doesn't write letters and sometimes finds e-mailing too time-consuming.
"It's kind of like keeping in touch with your friends when you or they don't have the time to keep in touch otherwise," said Naz Hamid, 30, the creative director of local blog Gapers Block.
For those outside the growing world of social media, the increasing appeal of such seeming self-indulgence is puzzling and may be alarming, suggesting that the online generation's attention span has gotten even shorter and more focused on itself.
There has always been an undercurrent of irritation with the ultra-confessional nature of the Web. Yet the backlash hasn't occurred. Instead, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are edging into the mainstream, encouraging more people to put their personal lives online. Both Facebook and MySpace have features where members can post a brief line about what they're doing or thinking at the moment.
"I'm not sure it'll ever end," said Michael Brito, who is Intel's "social media evangelist" and recently rejected his 6-year-old daughter's request to join Twitter. "I can have the TV on, be on e-mail, instant messenger and Twitter, and I still feel like I have a good grasp of what's going on around me. I don't think it's over. I'm looking at my daughter and kids her age, and I think it's just going to continue to evolve."
In the case of Twitter, founded in 2006, the site's growth has surprised even some of its users. Chicagoan Andrew Huff, 33, first started using Twitter at the 2007 South By Southwest, an annual music, film and technology festival in Austin, Texas. Attendees used Twitter on their cell phones to organize social gatherings on the sidelines of the event. He thought he would ditch Twitter after the festival. But for Huff, who works from home as the co-editor of Gapers Block, Twitter "became my water-cooler chat, a running conversation with your co-workers at the next desk." Twitter, based in San Francisco, won't disclose the number of users but says it has grown sixfold in the past 12 months. Part of Twitter's success is that the site has opened itself up to the wider universe of social networking Web sites and applications - users can sync their miniposts with updates on their Facebook or MySpace profile pages, for example.
An entire cottage industry of Twitter-related sites has also sprung up. These range from Twiddict.com, which stores users' posts if the original site goes down, to TwitterVision.com, where visitors can see speech balloons pop up in real-time on a map of the world. Another site, Summize.com, allows computer users to search Twitter posts, which are often publicly accessible.
Still, with so much online noise, fatigue is inevitable. Many Twitter members regularly "un-follow" people if their contact list grows too long.
There is another method of dealing with too much info: unplug.