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The need to actually try Twitter before forming strident opinions about it is about as important as the need to actually understand issues before casting a vote.

That is to say, not at all.

Of course, there's nothing unpatriotic about taking a decade off from voting entirely — as our new City Councilman has so convincingly written on his blog. Perhaps that suggests the degree to which our culture seems more obsessed with Twitter, Facebook and social media than with electoral politics.

Opinion is largely polarized: The rise of it all either heralds a brave new world of democratized everything or a further descent into triviality and narcissism.

Either way, concerns about interpersonal communication — whether it's expanding, deteriorating or morphing into something else entirely — are not without precedent. There was a time when little kids paged through Norman Rockwell illustrations to pick out ads for "pen pals" from distant lands. Today, that form of communication is the nearly exclusive province of prison inmates.

In this week's cover story, we explore current developments in the Twitter phenomenon, from the folks next door who tweet about sports, music and religion to the people further out there who threaten to kill their cat if Miley Cyrus doesn't go back to tweeting. Miley, help!

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