In the book-nerd circles where I hang out, the most famous Twitter-hater by far is Jonathan Franzen, who has accused the service of being “unspeakably dumb,” “a coercive development,” “the ultimate irresponsible medium,” and “everything I oppose.” I love Franzen’s work, but reading him on the topic of Twitter drives me bidirectionally bonkers. Direction one: His opinions are bad-tempered, incurious, oversimplified, recklessly arrived at (he has no idea how Twitter works), and, in many respects, flat wrong. Direction two: How can he be so petulant, so dogmatic, so uninformed, and — in the deepest ways, where it matters most — so disturbingly right? What Franzen is wrong about is what actually transpires on Twitter. It’s not unspeakably dumb; the problem, in fact, is that it’s sufficiently smart and interesting that spending massive amounts of time on it is totally possible and semi-defensible.
Whatever else Twitter is, it’s a literary form, which goes some way toward explaining why I find it so seductive. A tweet is basically a genre in which you try to say an informative thing in an interesting way while abiding by its constraint (those famous 140 characters) and making use of its curious argot (@, RT, MT, HT). For people who love that kind of challenge — and it’s easy to see why writers might be overrepresented among them — Twitter has the same allure as gaming. It is, essentially, Sentences With Friends.