There's a reason why good stories cut out these interstices (or at very least use them in deliberate ways to further the story). It's just more noise, more of the many reasons why I quit spending most of my time connected to instant messenger programs in the first place.
Now, for us millennials, instant messaging is practically a native form of communication. From the day you arrive at college until the day you leave (and buy an iPhone to keep in touch thereafter), your desktop computer (or, for these kids now, laptop) is left on 24/7 so you can receive these oh-so-important communications. It's like our version of the answering machine. To cut oneself off is unthinkable: How will you stay in touch? How will people know you're OK? And more important, how will you know that people know you're OK, that to someone, you matter?
But about a year ago—not long before my desktop computer finally bit the dust from being left on all the time—I decided to cut instant messenger out of my life. Leaving a "buddy list" open on my desktop all day just reinforced, for me, the feeling that as I sat in front of my monitor I was in fact sitting at the edge of a vast, lonely Internet precipice, a very different mental landscape than my old college friends probably envision when they sit in front of their own monitors. Maybe to my old friends, IM programs still feel like a party where everyone's invited or an ongoing conversation with the world—but they don't to me.
I've scanned too many away messages about mundane day-to-day activities. I've seen too many people whose beacon into the void is simply the same away message they've blithely left up for years—literally years—on end, even after they've already "left for Boston" or "gone to camp." And I've had too many "catch-up" conversations with people who spotted my name in their buddy list and felt obligated to chat about what kind of sandwiches they like these days and where they're working and where am I working?—performative, perfunctory conversations that made me realize just how much of whatever connection we might've had in the first place was based on proximity, and how uninterested I am in their sandwich choices.
I began to realize just how nice it must've been, last century, to be able to leave an educational institution and not keep in touch with everyone you met even briefly. To be able to live your life and become an interesting, even somewhat mysterious person whom others might seek to reconnect with at some far-off juncture—a person whom others could then ask about sandwich choices and traveling preferences and other, perhaps more fully developed, minutiae. To grow up, in short, and move on.
But as a writer, I did miss one thing about instant messenger: the ability, culled from my four years of continual connection, to come up with good away messages, short, pithy missives to the void. Those I would save. Saved away messages had for me become an electronic continuation of the set of notebooks I'd formerly kept, full of original epigrams and quotations and snippets of thought and turns of phrase scrupulously copied down. Before Twitter but post-notebook, the away message became the place I stored those ideas, as well as a means of telegraphing, alluding to and reinforcing what was most essentially important to me at the time.
But I was now without away messages. And along came Twitter. After months of scoffing at its vapid Web 2.0–ishness, I realized a couple things:
1. I should probably know something about it, if only so I could speak authoritatively about it whenever it came up in conversation.
2. It could serve as that sort of easy, compose-and-forget-about-it mental storage space I need.
So this April, I started an account. The character limitation wasn't a problem; I was used to something similar on instant messenger. Ultimately, I've found the limitation to be freeing—because rather than feeling obligated to turn a small point into a larger one just to reach the length of a blog post or essay, I can simply work on crafting it into its own best form. The limitation is something to push back against, and I need that to create anything of merit in the first place.
So that's why I Twitter. And why almost no one will ever read my Twitters, unless they're interested in documentation of my creative process. And why I don't read most other people's Twitters, least of all those put out by iReporters or representatives of media organizations.
I Twitter to provide signposts through the thicket of my own thoughts.