Finding an Imperative
Till Twitter Does Us Part (A Short, Sad Story)

All A-Twitter


I'm listening to Bruce Hornsby's song, "The Valley Road."

I'm looking out my window at a beautiful maple tree covered in yellow and red Fall leaves.

Right now I'm wondering what I will eat for lunch, and how soon it will come.

I'm watching a hilarious spoof done by Tina Fey on SNL.

Do you really care that I am doing any of these things right now, at the moment I tell you? Does it matter? And isn't it presumptuous and even a frivolous waste of your time and mine for me to tell you?

That's the trouble with Twitter, that web-based application that asks the simple question, "What are you doing," and requires you to answer it in 140 words or less. What does it matter to someone else what I am doing, particularly if I can't elaborate on it? Twitter, a word that means "nervous excitement," is now used by over a million people who daily, or even hourly, post their answer (or "tweet") to that simple question, and by even more people who subscribe to their feed and receive updates on what they are doing via the web, by text message, or by email. It's a dynamic, ever-updating feed rolled out with a stream of consciousness ease, and many people seem to love using it.

Proponents tout how Twitter builds participatory community. A recent World magazine article recited the case of one evangelical church that had a "Twitter Sunday," projecting a feed from churchgoers onto auditorium screens throughout the entirety of their three services. Isn't that sort of like everyone talking at once? Is that what church is about? I'm not sure I want to attend a Twitter Sunday, with everyone hunched over their PDA or cell phone, immediately (and perhaps thoughtlessly) reacting to the music or sermon. Immediacy is the enemy of reflection, and in an increasingly distracted society, we don't need another diversion, another concession to our cultural attention deficit disorder.

Twitter may also pander to our exhibitionist and egotistical tendencies, in that we assume others will want to know what we are doing all the time, letting them see into our thought processes and daily activities. And for those who enjoy reading such mundanities, it can be vouyeristic, allowing people some satisfaction in peeking into the thoughts and habits of others. Furthermore, knowing that you are being "fed on," would you not have a tendency to play to that audience, perhaps passing yourself off as someone more engaged or thoughtful or whatever you perceive as positive when you are not. Is this kind of chatter really helpful? Do we really want to be a party to a person's deliberative process if we don't even know them? I thik the verdicts out on whether that kind of twittering is a cultural good, simply innocuous, or even damaging to real community.

All these are concerns, and yet I'm not a Luddite. Most, maybe even practically all, technology offers something useful. So how can Twitter be sued to stimulate thoughtful reflection? If it is a distraction, how can it be redeemed and made a holy distraction, something that would provoke us to think more deeply about something, that doesn't give us answers but makes us reflect on the questions life presents?

Along these lines, I'm trying a 30 day experiment. For 30 days I'll be twittering at least once, maybe more, each day. Only you won't be bothered with the mundane events of my day but will be receiving tweets with a provocative, Godward quote, a question about a Scripture, or a question about life. I'll also tweet you when I have posted a new blog entry that you may find interesting. Maybe it'll make you reflect for a minute about something more, about how the holy lurks in all the mundane events of your day. Only I can't quite call it Twitter. A better name would be Provocations --- prompts to thoughtfulness. Care to sign up? You can subscribe to my feed here. Let me know what you think!

[For more on how and why to use Twitter, check out Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt's "12 Reasons to Start Twittering," here. He makes a reasonably good case for its use, though I always wonder about its unintended consequences. I also believe you could come up with "12 Reasons Not to Twitter," if you thought about it long enough, but I'll leave that to another day.]