Questioning Twitter and Status Updates: Or, How to Become Unpopular with Everyone in a Few Short Paragraphs

From Rich Clark’s piece on the good of Twitter over at the always provocative Christ and Pop Culture website:

twitter“While we need to acknowledge that a virtual, internet relationship is really no relationship at all, we also need to be honest and acknowledge what can be the real world benefit of knowing, for instance, that I’ve been thinking of doing some freelancing work, playing PS3 a LOT lately, and meditating on the vanity of life. This sort of knowledge makes the conversation a heck of a lot more meaningful and challenging when we come together on the weekend. By knowing what’s happening in one another’s lives, we know how to speak truth to one another, how to pray for one another, and how to serve one another.”

I challenged this sort of thinking last Friday very briefly.  Rich left a comment on that post that linked to a piece he had written featuring the above quotation.  Rich has a keen mind.  After considering his argument, I think that there are some beneficial aspects to Twitter and Facebook status updates.  This medium can allow for quick communication that can convey important information–”Grace had her baby today”–or uplifting information such as “Brock was encouraged by a sermon he heard on 1 Timothy this morning.”  This kind of thing can be useful and beneficial.

But there seems to me to be a category wide enough to drive a semi through of information that does not need to be shared.  With all due respect to Rich, I don’t need to know that he’s been playing a lot of PS3, and he doesn’t need to know that I ate french toast this morning.  Should we exchange this data, a whole lot of nothing would have happened, time would have been taken up, and we would have contributed a little bit to the culture of insignificance that pays great attention to what is unimportant and far less attention to what actually is important.

I also wonder about the danger of narcissism with this new method of communication.  Why do we need to tell each other what tv show we’re watching?  Why do we constantly change our Facebook profile pictures?  Why do we blather on forever on our blogs about what we’re doing, liking, missing, and hoping?  Ours is a narcissistic, self-focused generation, and the level of this narcissism boggles the mind.  We know so little in the way of self-control and modesty and are so skilled in the ways of self-promotion and impulse-gratification.  I fear that our Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs all too often represent a shallowness of soul that cries out for attention we do not need and should not want.

Look: all the cultural momentum points away from self-control, modesty, and the pursuit of a significant life.  We are encouraged by culture to be self-promoters, shallow, technologically obsessed, and unconcerned with the larger things and bigger questions of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen all of these problems cohere in a student in a class on some important Christian doctrine updating their Facebook page.  This, I would argue, is our generation’s constellation of problems captured in a single picture.  One is self-promoting (oftentimes), frequently posting a silly picture or comment, surfing the web, and ignoring complex instruction that requires concentration and that will almost certainly stretch and bless one’s mind and soul.  Such behavior is too frequent almost to notice and frighteningly bankrupt.

Many of us can make a quick sarcastic remark, but how many of us can follow a philosophical or theological argument?  Or, better yet, how many of us would want to?  Wouldn’t we rather Twitter, or check our email, or our Facebook page, or play a fun electronic game?  Most of us.  And most of us are becoming spiritually and intellectually thin, even as our narcissism grows bloated and our instincts for self-promotion wax hot.

I would challenge readers: speaking generally, don’t use Twitter.  Cultivate deep thinking even as you use technology.  If something smells strongly of self-promotion, give it a pass.  Be a part of Facebook, of other media, but do so thoughtfully, responsibly, edifyingly.  Glorify Christ not simply in how you use media, but in what media you use.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Questioning Twitter and Status Updates: Or, How to Become Unpopular with Everyone in a Few Short Paragraphs

  1. Very good. I think I’ll use this as the basis for a discussion with my kids.

  2. Owen,

    Interesting thoughts. Prayer and discernment should be a part of deciding whether or not to use Twitter. Twitter is not inherently narcissistic and I think can be used for good. Your concerns are good: I disagree w/ “speaking generally, don’t use Twitter.” I would encourage a discerning choice. If you reject Twitter, would you not also reject IM, updating Facebook status, other such applications?

  3. As always Owen your thoughts hit home. Thanks so much for the post – there is much to consider in our current use of technology. Should we not also consider the generations that are to follow and what we will leave behind of our lives that points to the beauty of God in the face of Christ? Will Twitter last for posterity? I would encourage us to leave our children and grandchildren journal entries, meditations on Scripture, and the like – something that will show the providence and grace of God in our lives. Something that will point them to Christ. Something that is more important and more lasting than what we ate for dinner.

  4. viaemmaus

    Good stuff, Owen. Question: Is it possible to take Twitter captive for Christ? I think if someone sets his/her intentions on making use of it for the purposes of edification, meditation, and valuable information, than it can be redeemed from the proliferation of banality and vanity that pervade its tweets and for the glory of Christ. For unless, it is used this way, it along with blogs, facebook, and the next techno-wizardy that comes at us is simply rubbish. With that said, the medium itself does lend itself to the trivial and unimportant. In fact, I would say that it does promote it. But I don’t think categorically that it has to. So a constant guard must be kept up from slipping into the abyss of shallowness, and a spiritual intentionality must be maintained to make it a valuable endeavor. In this is the rub.

    dss
    <

  5. Mike Freeman

    Thought provoking as usual. As a business owner, I use twitter to listen a lot more than I do to talk. Much has been written in the way of using searches and external “twitter scrapers” in order to find out what’s happening in a particular field. It has been my experience that Twitter, as with other “tech heavy” gatherings on the net, has an extreme liberal bent.
    In order to engage anyone on Twitter, you have to have some street credibility, which means you have to have some followers. To get followers, you have to post stuff about yourself, OR stuff you find interesting. It doesn’t have to be narcissistic, necessarily.
    I recently blogged about Twitter on MaineBusiness, where I have a business blog .
    http://mainebusiness.mainetoday.com/blogentry.html?id=9157

    An associate on MaineBusiness has written quite a bit on how to find and engage people on twitter (from a business perspective)
    http://mainebusiness.mainetoday.com/blogentry.html?id=8719

    Thanks again Owen for the good material.

  6. Pingback: The Social Media Debate: To Use or Not to Use « Provocations & Pantings

  7. “How to become unpopular with everyone in a few short paragraphs”

    Owen, why do write such lies? Should’ve been titles: “How to Become Unpopular in 7 medium-to-long length paragraphs.”

    Just kidding. As always, I enjoyed the article. I hope things at TEDS are going well for you and your family.

  8. Owen, this is some fantastic stuff. I often want to put my guard up when I read some of your stuff, but I fear that if I do so I’m often merely refusing the conviction of the Spirit.

    So, my guard is down. Much of what you say could be applied to me.

    But, I would disagree with the assumptions you make about the point of twitter/facebook. Most of the sincere Christians I know, and this applies to myself as well, keep these things up for nonselfish reasons. Some of us find these reasons hard to articulate. But I’ll try.

    My primary thought is that knowing a person is much more than simply knowing what we deem “important”. You act as if our conversation and disclosure ought to be limited to theological and spiritual conversation. But isn’t there value in anything else? Do we really want to start drawing lines in the sand based on subject matter to determine what’s important and what’s not?

    So you know important and trivial when you see it? Are you sure? Is there not some unconcious knowledge of one another that begins to form over a long period of time based on the little things?

    I’m the first to say that Twitter and Facebook aren’t ideal. But since it’s hard/impossible to keep meaningfully involved with one another’s lives in the same way the early church would have been able to, we have an opportunity here to AID our fellowship. Yes, there are dangers. So why can’t we be aware of them and embrace the opportunity?

  9. “I fear that our Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs all too often represent a shallowness of soul that cries out for attention we do not need and should not want.”

    Well said, Owen.

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  13. Gaye Specht

    I did think your article had some worthy points but I get so tired of other Christian leaders and Writers bringing a wet blanket on something that has gotten our attention for a season.
    Right away there is negativism in something that brings some form of connection with others in our growing relationship with the LORD.
    I like people and I like my friends past and future and want to be a blessing in their lives and this is the medium that God has provided for now.
    Plus, I am a women and I like details of my friends lives. It is fun!

  14. Ben

    I agree w/ Garrett and Rich. To characterize a neutral tool as negative is a mistake. Email is not a negative thing, cell phones are not negative, etc. In almost any technology there’s risk for abuse, and I think Twitter/Facebook are simply in that group.

  15. owenstrachan

    Interesting thoughts, Ben. My main response would be that you seem to assume that a medium can’t be a message. I don’t usually assume that a medium, a means of communication, is totally bad or totally good, but I would wonder if there isn’t a little more room for a medium to be slightly less than neutral.

    I of course concede that most technology has good and bad sides. I use a cell phone, a computer; I blog and am on Facebook. I’m not a Luddite, and I try to see the good and bad in things. However, Twitter (and things like Facebook status updates) has some central features that seem to me to give it greater potential for ill use, a point that unfortunately seems proven when I look at how most people use it.

    The communication of very small, quite personal, and often pretty inconsequential bits of information shades out of neutral for me. I try not to be narcissistic and to focus attention on myself in regular, everyday conversation, but Twitter seems to reward such behavior. Furthermore, I try to be substantial and consequential in my daily life, while Twitter seems geared around the insubstantial and inconsequential (with some exceptions–birth announcements or some such thing).

    Again, my argument is that these problems are not incidental to Twitter, as they are with other mediums, but very nearly essential. That is, if one is using Twitter well, one will almost necessarily engage in inconsequential, narcissistic behavior. That’s the sum total of my argument.

    I’m glad, however, for all kinds of people to prove me totally, undeniably wrong, to make me look dumb by their godly, substantive, consequential, others-centered use of Twitter or whatever else. I say this in all sincerity. Until then, I will continue to think of much (not all!) Twitter usage in the same vein that I think of people who in conversation constantly reference themselves, focus attention on themselves, and generally contribute little to a discussion that lasts and is substantive.

    But as I said–prove me wrong.

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