Yesterday, I asked you for your opinions about “twittering” during an actual church service. And wow, it generated some incredible dialogue. I was almost inspired to do that tweetup or whatever you call it and sing kum ba yah together. Again, I’m a fan of Twitter but like many things, feel like we need to consider some boundaries such as its usage during and through church. I don’t have much more to add but wanted to share some of the stimulating comments for your consideration and engagement. If you’ve got the time, read through all the comments from the post.
I’m thinking that soon, some “innovative church” is going to be the first to start the “First Church of Twitter” and then go Multi Site Video Twitter Venues. It’s possible because anything’s possible…
Here’s some sample comments:
One of the most stimulating comments I’ve ever read from Daniel Azuma about Facebook, Twitter and ecosystems:
Okay, I’m going to have to go on a rant here.
Pastor Eugene: you made a comment on Twitter vs Facebook that seems directed squarely at people like me (who come in and out of Facebook with some trepidation but avoid Twitter like the plague), and I think I need to address it.
Facebook is a highly complex platform-oriented ecosystem that functions as a technological enabler. By that I mean it provides a plethora of basic tools that can be extended and combined in a large variety of ways. More importantly, because of the open platform for application development, it can be, and already has been, extended in unlimited ways directed not by the nature of the technology but by the nature of the community that interacts with it.
Twitter is a highly specific, opinionated service that directs its use based on the limitations of the technology. Where do you think the 140 character limit comes from? It comes from text messaging, the most limited form of communication ever devised by man, the ultimate end of a long history of systematic castration of human communication by technology. The Twitter experience therefore devolves into a flat and highly constrained shadow of interaction, and it takes human community down with it. A short while ago you yourself posted a link to a video that illustrates the point much more beautifully than I ever could here.
My point is this. If the goal is community, then services like Facebook and Twitter incite a conflict between the nature of community and the nature of the (technological) medium. If the medium is restrictive (like Twitter), then it tends to redefine community in its own image. Technology is in effect more powerful than community. If the medium is more complex and extensible, then it tends to fade more into the background and allows community to direct the technology in its own image. Community thus has more of the upper hand. That latter I think is what we want. In fact, when we say things like “it’s about how we use it” then we are assuming the latter.
Twitter is almost the purest example of the former in existence. It is such an important and powerful player in the industry precisely because it has been redefining communication in its own image. And that is precisely why it is problematic for our purposes. Facebook itself has the same issue to a lesser extent, and ultimately I’m not really defending it here. But at least it gives community more breathing room, and we have seen much more interesting social phenomena arise from it than from Twitter.
Put another way, I would say more real and rich communication takes place during two minutes of holding hands with someone you love and saying nothing, than during two days of Facebooking or two years of Twittering. Why is that? It’s all about the medium. Each medium interacts with and directs communication in its own way, but some are more restrictive than others and some are more human than others. It is important to be able to tell the difference beforehand. Because once you’re in it, your thinking becomes accustomed to the restrictions around you and you can no longer see beyond the walls of your shack.
Now to bring this back to Twitter in the church: I find the idea absolutely appalling. Some of the reasons have been mentioned by other commenters. Andy shows us how it encourages distraction over engagement, scatteredness over presence. DK reminds us of our addiction to attention, and Twitter is all about an attention economy. Anne points out the same tired pattern of uncritically accepting and “christianizing” secular culture rather than working to bring about Kingdom culture. And Ian: amen brother.
Jack Danger, dang, I have a lot of respect for you and I know what you’re saying: the one-to-many sermon mechanism is an anachronism from an age in which few were literate and almost none theologically intelligent. The problem is real, but Twitter is far from a “great” solution. It fails because it goes to the other extreme, assuming that everyone is (equally) theologically intelligent. This is not the case. People are literate and opinionated, but it can be argued that spiritual maturity and theological intelligence are nevertheless currently at a low ebb. The one thing worse than a clueless preacher (and believe me, I’ve seen them) is a congregation of a hundred clueless preachers all speaking at the same time (and believe me, I’ve seen those too).
Supporters of social technology would say that the system works anyway because it induces a meritocracy, where the “best” information (e.g. the “best” tweets) tend to rise to the top. Alas, that’s merely wishful thinking, for three reasons. First, who is qualified to judge what is “best”? If the pastor is, as you suggest, not wise and informed, then it becomes a free-for-all of incompetent judges judging incompetent material. Second, especially with something like Twitter that encourages large volumes of shallow information, the task of sorting through the mass of data becomes overwhelming. Third, and perhaps most importantly, as much as we intellectually want a meritocracy to work, our culture nevertheless despises the concept. Our culture thinks that meritocracy == elitism. It thinks so for a simple reason. Meritocracy means that *I* may not be (and in fact probably am not) one of the skilled and privileged few. Therefore, in a culture like ours where *I* is of ultimate importance, meritocracy is the most dangerous of systems.
Joseph complains that we’re overthinking. I respectfully but firmly disagree. Our problem is not that we overthink but that we don’t think at all. Churches are embracing things like this because they’re trendy and popular, leading quickly and easily to large and happy congregations. But does that mean that such things are *right*? Churches have bought into a culture that values trendiness over criticality. That’s not the mark of a healthy culture, and it certainly is not a mark of Christianity.
The nature of Twitter is that it is a flat broadcast medium, a means of limited outgoing expression. In tech-speak, it is not full-duplex. That is, it does not encourage two-way interaction; it has a strong one-way bias. Is that what church is evolving into? Just another means of libertine self-expression? Millions of churchgoers tweeting, but who’s listening?
Here’s one from Andy M:
I’m sure that there are creative ways that it could be used, but here is my opinion off the top of my head.
Imagine that you and a friend are deep in conversation, and then their phone rings, and they quickly answer it, and then for the next 5 minutes they carry on a complete conversation with whoever called, with you just standing there uncomfortable and not sure what to do.
Personally I think it isn’t just rude to be so easily distracted, but it shows a persons priorities, and where you fall within them. We desperately need to get back to face to face encounters with people. Electronic communication is not the same as talking with someone face to face and being fully present with them.
When God told Moses to climb Mt. Sinai there is an odd piece of scripture that essentially says, “climb up the mountain, and then be on the mountain.” There has been discussions about whether this was a typo or what, but there is this idea that God knows that when Moses finished climbing up the mountain, his human inclination would be to begin thinking about his climb down, rather than to focus solely on being on the mountain with God.
We need to learn to be fully present wherever we are. If we are with our family, then we need to be focused, mind body and soul, on our family. If we are in church then we need to “be” at church, if we are at work then we need to “be” at work.
I’m not saying that facebook, twitter, whatever cannot be useful and if used creatively maybe can be helpful with a service. But I personally don’t see how. And I also think that people overall are losing their ability to interact with other people face to face.
It is kind of like how a child, while they may love to watch Santa Claus, the easter bunny, disney characters, whatever, when they encounter someone dressed up as those characters the kid freaks out and starts crying, but put them back in front of the TV and they will gleefully continue to watch those same characters.
And one last one from Jack Danger Canty:
I think this could be a great solution to an as-yet-unsolved problem. The structure of Christian sermons is that there’s one person in front dispensing information to a large group of people who are only slightly less informed than the speaker is – and often more informed. For my part I’ve sat through so many sermons where I disagreed, had background info the pastor didn’t, had personal experience the pastor didn’t etc, and there was no way to express that. That’s no recipe for church intimacy.
It’s my opinion that this 1-to-many sermon structure is fundamentally broken in an age of literacy. I think silent conversations among the congregation is a helpful way to encourage engagement without drowning out the person who’s delivering prepared remarks. I think if most pastors knew how informed and opinionated and interesting the spiritual lives of each of their congregants is they’d find a way to turn the standard “passive lecture” format into a conversation. Twitter is just one way to do that.