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Are We Tweeting Away the Power of Story?

Confession: I love social media. I am addicted to Facebook and am coming around on the whole Twitter deal. Twitter irritates me a little as a teacher and writer though. Maybe I am just longwinded, but this 140 character rule is bothersome. I worry that Twitter might be impacting a culture of people who already do not listen well. I wonder if we are turning communication exclusively into a consumer transaction. I am concerned that we are reducing the Gospel to a series of powerful “one-liners”.

Twitter has its place in the rapidly changing world of 21stcentury high speed exchange, but I think we should take an honest look at how it alters our communicationAND the way we think. There is an author I have heard good things about recently, so I looked him up on Twitter. Twitter-author guy could do stand-up comedy. He tweets all day long and almost every one of them is hilarious. Istarted readinghis new book and found it exhausting. There was some substance to it, but his Twitter mentality definitely came through clearly in his prose: one-liner after one-liner. After several pages, I started to listen for canned laughter in the background. He is a genius on Twitter: creative, spontaneous, and funny. He could write a line of comedic Hallmark cards in his sleep; I just couldn’t take his entire message seriously. It really bothered me to think maybe this author’s constant practice of writing catchy phrases has slowly impacted his ability to share his story. As a anotherfamousauthor once said — “you are what you give yourself to” — and this guy gives a lot of himself to “Twittering.”

There is a great book out there called Alone Together that takes a deeper look at the psychological and relational effects of our new forms of digital communication and social networking. I am fascinated with the spiritual effects of this stuff. Are we conditioning ourselves through Twitter to cut our thoughts, feelings and stories into a more succinct, consumable form to meet the needs of our speedy culture? Are we learning to stop listening after a certain number of words? Are we eroding the value of a good story? Stories are how we truly know each other, how we communicate our faith, how we learn to change and empower others to do the same. I guess it isn’t Twitter that bothers me, rather how Twitter is training us. I wonder if the brevity of the Twitter practice slowly carves away our ability to absorb meaning. If we lose the ability to process story, I am not sure we can effectively share the power of the Gospel.

Just for fun, I tried to fit a couple of important lines from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount into a consumable 140 characters:

Ther4 if u r offering ur gift @ the altar & there remember ur brother/sister has something against u leave ur gift n front of the alter 1st

And then what? The Twitter-educated mind might just process and move on. Do we know the rest of the narrative? We have all witnessed the destructive power of Bible verses being quoted completely independent of their context and meaning to prop up someone’s world view. Thinkof a couple lines from Timothy about women in the church… if those lines aren’t framed against the greater Gospel narrative, they can really be misused.

I am not hating on Twitter here, I use it and enjoy it. But, I believe that as people of faith we need to be cognizant of how it impacts the way we relate to the world. We need to be careful not to reduce communication to consumption; careful to exercise our ability to listen, read, and know the whole story. We should guard against reducing the message of the Gospel to consumable 140 character thoughts and keep ourselves from Tweeting away the power of our Story.

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