To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
That is Graham Stanton's question
Graham Stanton- Principal of Youthworks College.
On August 19, 2009 at 9:05pm I signed up to Twitter. My colleague Jodie McNeill (Director of Youthworks Outdoors) talked me into it (he told me that using email was ‘so 2004’!)
For those who may still be technologically stuck in 2004, Twitter is a new form of social networking begun in 2006 known as ‘micro-blogging’. Users post updates (‘tweets’) of no more than 140 characters that can be read by anyone who has signed up to ‘follow’ your status. Twitterers (affectionately (?) known as ‘twits’) have a username preceeded by an @, like @KevinRuddPM and @JohnPiper (the Christian preacher, not the manufacturer of tinned meat goods). You sign on, get your own username, start choosing people to follow, and hope someone follows you (or else you’re left twittering into nothingness).
As a late and reasonably sceptical starter with facebook, Twitter seemed to me to be a step too far. I was one of those who gleefully pointed out studies showing that 40% of what is communicated on Twitter is pointless babble (do I really want to know that someone is tucking into strawberry ice-cream for dinner?! ). Looking firmly down his nose at the ‘twitterati’, English philosopher Alain de Botton called Twitter ‘a giant baby monitoring service’!
So why twitter?
For me, twitter has become a tool for sharing five different types of information:
There are snippets of thoughts that communicate something of the life and times of Youthworks College. I’m hoping that others might be informed about what we’re doing, and perhaps inspired to pray for us:
- Chris Allen at YWC fireside tonight on healing ministry, great advice to remember: “I’m not your life-skills coach, I’m your Bible teacher”
- Lecture on ecclesiology, chapel, mtg with Presbyterian Youth re training partnership-a day to celebrate God’s glory in the church-Eph 3:10
- Sometimes there are specific prayer points – either for us at College, for other ministries, or more general prayers for what’s going on in the world:
- Youthworks planning (mostly) done - now to get on with it! Pray 2 Thess 1:11-12
- 3/4 of mental illnesses in Aust hit people before they turn 25. Pray for the success of new Yth Mental Health facility opening in Syd today.
Then there are the brief theological reflections; thoughts that come to me out of sermons I hear, discussions with others, quotes from things I’m reading:
- “Why not rather be wronged?” (1Co 6:7). Because I want my rights! But if Jesus had demanded his rights we’d all be sunk (1Co 6:9-11)
- “Only if your God can say things that outrage you will you know you’ve got hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination” TKeller
- Watching Aus Idol- who’d want to be judged on their own merits?! Thank God that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13)
Tweets are a simple way to let people know I’ve written a new blog article; and gives the added challenge of attempting to summarise a longer piece in 140 characters:
- Cultures transformed & taken up in Christ create churches of people who can engage any culture for Jesus’ sake. NewBlog http://bit.ly/19tzAR
And then there’s the ‘meaningless babble’, the random bits of life that might not be important, probably aren’t that interesting, but they’re the everyday things that fill in the gaps:
- Airport haiku - Bored at the airport / better than going by ship / fifteen hours. Home.
- Helping set up for women’s dinner at church - is it really necessary for each table to have matching chairs??
- It’s the Weekend!
Twitter isn’t designed to replace other forms of communication. Since signing up to Twitter I’ve continued to read novels, read and written essays and journal articles, used email for brief communications as well as more extended discussions, made and received phone calls, even written old fashioned letters and put them in the post! All of these are communication technologies of some form, and each technology can be used to aid or to hinder real communication and vibrant human interaction. Any technology is a tool, and a tool can be used well or used poorly – you just need to find out what it’s best designed to achieve, and make sure that the content is worth communicating.
At a conference recently for Anglican Communicators Jim French and I shared with them some thoughts on how best to communicate with young adults. We recognised that there’s a range of communication technologies available today – forming a continuum from Twitter, through facebook, online forums, blogs, online content, print media, to the good old traditional book! At the Twitter end of the scale the technologies are used for making connections, while print media and books are used for in-depth analysis and reflection. For those with something to say, you don’t have to work out how to say everything you have to say in under 140 characters as if no one born after 1980 will bother reading anything longer than that! Instead, we need to work out how to communicate what we have to say in a way that will be engaging for those we want to communicate with! As always, content is king! Work first on having something to say, then pick the appropriate technology to use to communicate it.
When human beings first started writing their language down on rocks and paper, they didn’t stop talking to each other face to face. When we developed the technology to speak to each other over the telephone we didn’t give up the practice of arranging to meet in person. When email burst on the scene we didn’t all lose our ability to talk and write full sentences. SMS hasn’t seen the death of spelling. Neither does Twitter need to spell the end of deep human relationships of intimate trust and joy.
John Stott displayed uncanny foresight when he wrote this back in 1982 (I Believe in Preaching, p.69):
It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.
Of course the modern technological world can be dehumanising for many; but while our culture may have particular dehumanising potential through the possibility of replacing human-to-human contact with electronic alternatives, we’re not the only culture in the history of the world to be less than what God intended us to be. Our challenge is the same challenge that has confronted God’s people in any age—how to live in our culture in a way that isn’t conformed to the world around us, but is transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2); to take hold of Twitter in the name of Christ.
The irony is, this quotation from John Stott only came to my attention because someone tweeted the link to me! Twitter, connects me with a blog, which connects me to a book written over two decades ago, which reminds me of the importance of connecting in the fellowship of my local church. An idea worth tweeting I reckon!
[Follow Graham on Twitter at @YWCgraham, and Jodie McNeill at @JodieMcNeill Keep up to date with Youthworks news and events at @Youthworks.]