"It encourages people to distill ideas down to their core, and then only the ones that really stick get shared. So it is an effective way of generating incisive commentary," he said.
But he wonders whether something is being lost. It takes more than brief bursts of creativity to actually, well, communicate -- to really understand someone else's perspective.
"Understanding others' experience lies at the core of true moral understanding. It connects us to others and gives us a real appreciation of their motives and beliefs," he said. "So the danger is that social media is making us fall back on what we already understand: our stereotypes and preconceived notions. When social communication is so accessible and immediate, it can also become very shallow."
Remapping the brain
That's been a concern of older generations for, well, generations.
When the telephone started becoming popular in the late 19th century, adults worried that youngsters were using it for flirtation. Television was derided as the "boob tube," and high-minded academics wondered why the promise of education and social uplift had been replaced by "Mr. Ed" reruns.
Now we have these remarkable smartphones, devices with amazing computing and imaging power, and we use them for ... taking pictures of ourselves.
Tammy Vigil, a professor in Boston University's College of Communication, routinely sees it among her students. With the way these photos spread on social media, she looks at it as "sort of an interesting attempt at fame, almost. It's sort of being their own paparazzi. They put out these pictures of themselves, and they hope they get pushed on."
She finds it striking that Snapchat and Instagram express two different attitudes toward social fame. Snapchat, after all, assumes that your image will be quickly wiped. Instagram, however, is presumably forever: "It's almost like a photo album," Vigil said.
Some observers worry that photos may not provide the same nuance as text.
But Dr. Gopal Chopra, a neurosurgeon and the creator of PINGMD, a medical data communication service, notes that the brain is tremendously flexible. It's just a matter of how much effort we put into assessing all that information flying at us, he says.
The nuances we pick up through text we can also learn visually, though it takes time. Think of muscle memory, he says: With enough repetition, the brain can create new pathways for physical tasks. The same is true in going from one medium to another.
"It's plasticity," he said. "We are remapping. And it does take time. But it takes an effort to go from the BlackBerry to an iPhone."
But for those willing to make the effort, the brain can adjust.
"From a neuroscience perspective, the brain is such an underestimated storehouse and synthesis house when it comes to information," he said.
Another grumble is that we're leaving text behind completely and that coming generations will be worse off for it. However, Rob Weiss, a therapist and executive with Elements Behavioral Health, says that's just generational moralizing.
"When I sit down with a bunch of therapists and ask what's going on, they can't help but tell me about worried they are about young people, how young people are going to lose their communications skills, they're going to be unempathetic towards other people, they're going to be narcissistic ... all of this negativity," said Weiss, whose forthcoming book, "Closer Together, Further Apart," is about the effect of technology on intimacy and relationships.
"I think this is generational. This is just like sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, when our parents were horrified."
Instead, he says, it's simply another turn -- one in which we don't know the results yet.