A Little Tweet of a Defense of Twitter

Not too long ago, one of the staff decided we needed to be on Twitter, as Circle of Hope, to talk to Tweeters. About 20 million Americans access Twitter about once a month. A lot of them are in the age group we like to influence. A lot of them influence the age group we like to influence.

So the staff got excited about this initiative and put the word out on the Dialogue List. We are @CircleofHopeNet. They even put a tweety on the announcement! They didn’t mean it to be a major use of their time; just more fun ways to get the word out.

Not too long afterward a person wrote in to the Dialogue List and said, “This is sad.” Not too long after that another person wrote in and said, “Unsubscribe!” We had a micro-protest about Twitter! No doubt there are many other people who would have protested or unsubscribed had they checked their email!

I would like to make a gentle defense of Twitter-using. In the interest of full disclosure, I am @rodofcircle. I use it mainly for fun. The fact that I wrote this blog will also be made known to my few “followers.”

My main defense is this: Twitter is a tool. You don’t have to be a tool of Twitter. It is like
anything else.

Using a tool implies that you are making something. In this case Twitter could be building some community with people who use Twitter.

Not using Twitter is fine. Just because the staff is communicating that way doesn’t mean we have all succumbed to virtuality or that Joshua will be on a jumbotron next week at the PM. If you know of someone who is addicted to Twitter and not making relationships face-to-face, please do what you can do to help them. But not using Twitter out of some prejudice or knee-jerk reaction to anything faddish seems kind of ungenerous, maybe even fearful.

One the other hand, just going along with every social-networking thing the world produces isn’t necessarily action, either. Being tossed by every whim of technology could corrupt your soul. We are being assaulted on every side by some new invasion of our humanity by communication devices. Resisting is important.

I am not sure the Apostle Paul would have used Twitter; but it wouldn’t surprise me if he loved it. When Paul is working on how believers relate to the world, he has a lot to say (just do a little search of “world” in the internet Bible program). To the Corinthians he said, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.“ He finds it kind of obvious that we would lose our purpose if we left the world, somehow. He’s all about the mission.

I suppose the Twitter-objectors might be judging the Twitter-users of the church and deciding not to associate with such immoral people. I doubt it. (But I am checking.) I  suspect they are more concerned that we are becoming like the foolish people of the world, sucked into our devices and calling it relating. If that is their point, I think they have a good point. I think Paul’s point is that we don’t need to leave the world before our time. We’ll be associating until the time for associating is up. I think I am agreeing with Paul when I say that we don’t need to be “of” the world, but we do need to transform it. If God can be a baby and end up a slave to the world, I can hold my nose and use Twitter to communicate with the Twitterians.

Actually, I think Twitter is kind of fun. But I don’t recommend it to people who don’t want to use it to communicate for some eternal purpose. I don’t really do much, consciously at least, that doesn’t have some connection to Jesus, so Twitter is just one more thing. If you aren’t able to use it for mission, reject what you like. If I am trying to make an eternal difference, just pray for me if you think I am using questionable means. For me, Twitter is just another chance to give some news, be vulnerable, share a small touch of love or joy. It is like a tweet, but it is still music.

13 thoughts on “A Little Tweet of a Defense of Twitter

  1. Ok… third time I’ve lost half an hour’s writing to vapor…

    I was writing this earlier to another friend…

    For me, communications are a gift… To get to know someone just because I happen to be in line with them at the grocery store… what an amazing and daily event!

    And then the telephone… first the party line, then the direst dial person to person system… more is possible because the phone exists…

    The the Internet (as a medical researcher, I was using the Internet before the browser was invented, back in the ’80’s.)

    And videoconferencing.

    And now Facebook.

    My life is more relational because of the tools available.

    Isn’t it interesting that the same tool that had some people locked in a dark room for days, alone, masturbating to porn, is the same vehicle that is bringing down despotic regimes, and providing relational connection to folks who want more from life!

    Tools are not evil or good… they are tools in the hands of folks who are capable of both evil and good.

    I know Rod and Jonny only through social media… we’ve never met face to face. I plan to meet them, and when I do, the added benefit is that I also meet their community too!

    I see relationship as a continuum… and the tools available make the continuum possibly wider.

    We take mission trop in part to change the world, but also we take short term mission trips to change our own hearts and minds. Our beliefs are challenged by the context others live in, and in general, we see the Gospel more fully when we visit other contexts.

    Social media is a way of presenting ideas and having our presuppositions challenged. We have to learn to love differently. Iron sharpens iron.

    I am less arrogant because have been smoothed by interacting on social media… (honestly, this is actually LESS!)

    Samuel Clemmons once said, “ I wrote a long book, if I had more time, I’d have written a shorter one.” Being forced to be succinct and brief is a good discipline. I’m happy it’s not the only way, but it is a valuable way of making me distill down what I want to say.

    I love that we have public ways of expressing relationship. I love finding someone new and interesting, and dumpster diving through a year’s worth of what they’ve been saying.

  2. The brevity of the twitter platform is often called into question and equated to being “shallow” but is there a better prayer than “Jesus I love you and help me to love those around me” isn’t simple what we are striving for?

    I agree with the growing disconnect between people because of the technology we have but I would call facebook a greater evil before twitter. Facebook has with out doubt ruined relationships I’m most people know someone who had a bad breakup due to facebook.
    Twitter does have some positive marks. The Egypt revolution being one of them and how people used it to organize a meaningful event which resisted and empire.

    I think twitter can be overwhelming but it also can be freeing I used twitter to interact with other filmmakers locally and around the world. Watching each others work, advice on career and gear, and always some nerd technical jokes.

  3. Joey, you’re not alone. Twitter makes me sad, too. I think it is antithetical to our ideal of “community” It escapes me how it will be used to reach people who aren’t connected. If the relationships what we are working to establish and cultivate in our lives are able to show people Jesus and inspire them to become connected to the Universal church, first, and subsequently COH community; then I’m not sure that 140 characters without a contextual reference will be more persuasive or appealing. I can’t imagine our “statements of purpose and mission” being whittled down to mere catch phrases so that someone can pick up on them easily. I think those skeptical of COH or christians in general will view the Twitter thing as “see, they’re not that different.” I think anyone who latches onto COH because of something they saw “tweeted” aren’t very likely to be interested in the long-term committment that our community offers and requires. These thoughts could be pessimism or shortsightedness on my part, and I’ll be perfectly willing to admit that down the road if Twitter works out the way those who started it hopes.

  4. Zack summarized my feelings about Twitter perfectly; I couldn’t believe how it took off when it did.

    On the one hand, I agree with those who have expressed that technology, particularly social media, may do more harm than good for the image of the church. Modern communication, with Twitter as its perfect archetype, is brief, shallow, and often meaningless. In a sense, Twitter spits in the face of deep, intentional communal relationships. For the church to resort to such a medium, even with the best intentions, seems like it may be too hypocritical.

    On the other hand, I understand the church’s desire to capitalize on available and prevalent resources to spread their message. Twitter may just be the next mechanism for this, following in the legacy of email, the printing press, and paved roads.

  5. Twitter is such a crazy phenomenon. I honestly thought that it would have died out by now because it is basically just the status part of Facebook except with a 140 character limit and nothing else. The fact that it is thriving is definitely reflective of our culture that wants small bits of voyeuristic insights into the lives of everyone at all times without having to spend more than a minute doing so. People are much less likely to sit down and read through a long and detailed book like the Odyssey when they can just read tweets and blogs. Ok. So that is our reality. We now have a choice. We can whine about the old days of hand-written communications and stagecoaches, or we can learn to be creative within the new mediums. Have you seen some of the tweets out there? SO much information can be contained within 140 characters when a person is creative enough. Granted, meaning can be lost and words can be taken out of context, but the book of Romans is a HUGE letter and we still take that one out of context pretty regularly. My point is that Twitter, like every other form of communication, can be used to destructive means (see Gilbert Gottfried), but when used creatively within a community of open and honest relationships, it seems fine to me. That being said, I have tried a dozen times to keep up on Twitter, but it moves WAY too fast for me. I actually have a few Twitter feeds on my Google Reader because signing into Twitter overwhelms me. Does that make me like a social-networking-old-person? It’s too fast for me, but if you want to tweet, then tweet well!

  6. hello folks. my name is Joseph and I still find the twitter account a sad situation (yes , that was my reponse) We are more creative than that to meet people. Im scared that the word “brand” is going to fall in place soon. And from what I learned yesterday at the PM is “empire is empire.” Twitter is a tool of that media empire. I say this knowing all to well about technology, since I depend on it to upload our public meeting recordings. Sorry, it scares me to even respond here online.

    I cant afford internet (I’m at the space) or a phone to twitter. So I’ll respond the best way I can …..in person. Let’s do what we do best in person. I guess I have a fear that we are getting too big and we have to start using these tools. What would be a good alternative?

    1. I agree, Joseph, Twitter is totally unneccessary for talking to each other. I hope we have made sure we are face to face in all the ways we can.

      I also agree with you and Chuck that when we use the “empire’s” tools we are liable to the empire’s rules. But that is not a new Christian problem. I would suggest taking Peter’s admonition in the face of it and be persecuted for doing good.

      But I still think, with Zack and Joy apparently, that we can use devices for good and with warmth. It is hardly a requirement that we do so, however. We’ll have to choose with our spiritual discernment as God gives us wisdom, freely.

      The best use of Twitter, etc., is for creative connections that advance our mission. As usual, I am promoting being a missional community with a sense of being the church that includes an “invasive separation,” meaning, among other things, that when we turn our cheeks, we are making a point as well as not resisting, when we love our enemies we are not just getting run over, we are demanding transformation. Where I come from “in Christ,” Twitter, branding, whatever I wisely choose to employ, is a means of re-creation when I get my hands on it. Should I let it get its hands on me, should I worship it, should I be unwise in its use, or should I slavishly follow it, that will be sin. Should I not participate in God’s redemption project because I am afraid, self-protective, ignorant or lazy, that may be an even greater sin. I think the best way to test out what is right or wrong in a case like Twitter is to apply it to your mission — is it helping me to make and grow a follower of Jesus? does it advance my Spirit-directed strategy for giving what I have been given?

  7. Chuck, you make many excellent points, however I disagree that Twitter cannot be a valuable tool to develop community and that it conflicts with the underlying logic of Circle’s core message. Sure, letter’s phone calls, in person conversations typically provide more depth than a 140 character tweet, but that is assuming that community is only about depth. Doesn’t community encompass every part of life and all types of communication? Isn’t community as much a smile from a friend from across the room at PMs as it is a deep theological conversation? Isn’t it a quick “praying for your interview today” text message and a friend comforting another after losing a loved one? Isn’t it all of the above? Both/And? Twitter allows it’s users to share information, communicate with each other, share interesting articles, funny videos, and their lives. This sharing does not happen in a vacuum. Our online realities effect our relationships and “real life” discussions. For instance, I found out about this blog and post today on twitter. This discovery has lead to dialogue and information. Twitter links us. The context, that you suggest is absent, is our relationships. Most forms of communications have their strengths and weaknesses (handwritten letters come to mind), but this does not mean we cannot use them as one means to build community.

    Case in point, I have three siblings whom I love dearly, but we all over the US (Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and of course, Philly). We have all signed up with twitter so that we cannot only have frequent contact with each other, but also do it in a way that all of us can participate at once. Through twitter I can see how my brother responded to my sister and I can then comment on both. If we waited for a four way video chat, it would probably never happen. We are busy, and twitter is the perfect way to keep us in community. Sure, deeper conversations have to happen through other mediums, but that does not mean that twitter is not a valuable PART of how we continue our community. Often, when I talk to a sibling on the phone, we will discuss the things we posted there and our siblings comments. Just recently, one of my brothers announced that he was admitted into grad school. We were able to immediately congratulate him, see each other’s responses, then call him later when we weren’t working, in class, etc. Certainly, Circle should not rely solely on Twitter to build community, but we are modern people. We have access to more tools than ever before to communicate. Why not use all of them?

    1. “we are busy” may be the most interesting part about this convesation to me. I understand and agree with most of the sentiments shared so far, even when they seem to be opposing. But, I’m concerned about how busy we are sometimes. Hi-tech communication enables us to run around a lot more and still communicate with lots of people…. this often feels great. But I do wonder if it just makes it harder to be still and follow Jesus. We forget to slow down and be present, because we always have a phone call or e-mail to handle. (I’m less present at work right now cause I’m commenting on this blog) When we start to think we need this stuff, it might be a problem.
      Thanks to Rod and others for teaching us to use technology more missionally.

      1. Haha, yes. I completely agree that if keeping up with IMs, texts, emails, BBM, Facebook, Twitter interrupts potential moments of deeper connection, that this is problematic. It’s interesting to me how with technology, you can be in many places at once. Bob Dylan actually said he hates ipods for this very reason. Mobile technology can make us less aware of the world around us. The NY Times has had many interesting articles on this subject, and here’s one that I actually had a friend read who is constantly BBMing (which is a Blackberry instant message system) while with her friends. The article is called “Tweet Less, Kiss More” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/opinion/17herbert.html). This ability provided by mobile devices and new forms of communication certainly must be tempered with a commitment and watchfulness to be present with people and around us. I’m still unconvinced, however that this technology is the problem and not the user. Many, if not most, things in life are problematic when misused or overused (alcohol, food, exercise, sex, etc). It seems to me that these sorts of communications should be things we do in addition not instead, which is a matter of use. A tweet is something I can do in thirty seconds during a busy day, but that doesn’t not mean I can’t also take time to have dinner with a friend, etc. I suppose our responsibility is to monitor our use of things like twitter.

  8. Glad you addressed this, Rod. I’m not a Twitterer and I don’t inherently object to its use by Circle’s leadership, but I do take issue with part of your justification. You state your main defense as being that “Twitter is a tool. You don’t have to be a tool of Twitter. It is like anything else.” I want to challenge your assumption that the inherent “goodness” or “badness” of a tool (or a technology) depends primarily upon use, and that any given tool (or technology) is “like anything else”.

    Our culture assumes that technology is neutral and that its value is foremost determined by how it is used. For example, people say things like, “the internet isn’t inherently bad, but it can be utilized toward sinful ends to distribute bad content like pornography or hate speech.” Certainly this is true to the extent. The same technology that facilitates porn and internet gambling also allows us to run Circle’s website (and this blog!), which you effectively use to communicate with people in and outside of the church community. Our experience has shown us that we can use technology to serve the Church’s mission in important ways. However, that does not mean that the internet is a neutral medium.

    The very design of the internet forces us to communicate in a certain way that presupposes a specific understanding of information, place, time, anthropology, community, etc. Twitter is a great example of this, because it limits the writer to 140 characters and organizes and links information in ways that other mediums do not (e.g. telephone, paper, word of mouth, etc). The information we tweet (or post on Facebook, message boards, etc) is broadcast to a remote audience across many locations. Consequently, a tweet lacks the sense of place, of situated community, that is necessarily presupposed by face-to-face interaction. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We don’t all live in a small town where such communication is always practical, so we find technology useful, but it is nevertheless a particular way of communicating that differs from other forms of communication, regardless of the speaker’s intentions or message.

    I submit that by using Twitter we do, indeed, become “tools of Twitter” because its use orders our communication, our community and our lives in ways that change the fundamental shape and nature of each of these. Twitter is a means of spreading bits of information to multiple locations largely without context. It requires an audience, but not a community. We may use Twitter to do good, but we must be careful to recognize that in many ways, its underlying logic conflicts with our core message. We must take care to domesticate it so that it strengthens our community rather than undermines it.

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