it depends on where you sit

I read a tweet today from @jonswerens.

» JG columnist Frank Gray says Twitter is mostly useless: http://tr.im/uqOE

I read the article in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

Frank Gray is a reporter I like a lot, even though I read the other paper in town. He is the kind of reporter that solves problems for people, that looks for underdogs and actually tells their stories. He’s not the “HEY HERE’S A SPECTACLE” writer, either. He’s thoughtful.

And I think he tried to be thoughtful when approaching twitter, too.

Except that he wrote this.

For some time, I’ve thought what a pointless way of communicating short, meaningless excerpts from our lives. It’s just another way for more of us to find an audience. We assemble friends, acquaintances, co-workers and strangers and every few days announce to the world what we’re doing, using short pointless posts.

And then this:

Before long, I began to fret, we’re going to become a nation whose beliefs, values and philosophies are formed by a flood of 20-word posts, many based on rumor.

He backed off a bit:

But I checked into it, and I’ve discovered that Twitter isn’t total nonsense. As one person pointed out in a column I read, tweeting was one of the few ways, if not the only way, that information got out of Iran during the protests after the disputed elections there.

Before concluding with this:

OK, I conceded, it isn’t useless.

Just mostly useless.

The trouble with his analysis, as I pointed out in an email conversation with him, is that he is using the metaphor he knows best: broadcast media. Not in the sense of electronic broadcasting, mind you, but in the sense of sending out messages to whatever audience they may hit. He talks about announcing to the world what we are doing, about politicians sending out messages, about newspapers being able to gather information from lots of tweets.

conversationI probably wouldn’t have been so troubled by the article if I hadn’t spent the morning involved in a funeral. I was recording the service on CD and video so I was free to be tweeting part of the service. One friend wrote back, wanting to understand why the family had chosen to use a photo of dolls on the program. Another person talked about the window into what I do as a pastor. I had talked with a couple other friends earlier in the day, checking on health issues and encouraging and finding out about writing progress.

I spend time using twitter (and texts and telephones and touching) to build relationships and trust and people. I approach twitter using the metaphor I know best: conversation.

I told Frank that I understand the content of twitter is often mundane, but so are many conversations in many other media-phone calls, lunch conversations, coffee breaks, entertainment sections of newspapers.  Many of these conversations–whatever the medium–are building threads between friends.  Some of them ARE just another way to build an audience, but that is true of the guy who talks all the way through the basketball game as well as some people on twitter.

I will acknowledge that I may be blessed with a remarkably thoughtful group of friends on twitter, people who I care deeply about. And so I may be part of the tiny part of useful he concedes exists.

But speaking as a pastor and a person and a friend, I cannot dismiss the value of these people…just because I read it in the newspaper.

And I find it amusing that I knew about the article from a tweet which led to a conversation with the writer.

That sounds like an illustration of usefulness.

3 responses to “it depends on where you sit

  1. I have often described twitter as walking into my favorite coffee shop. I’m never quite sure who will be there, but I know there will be good conversation. People pop in. People leave. I talk to some, nod at others. Sometimes I’m working and I barely glance up. Other times I never get to the work I planned because the conversations were too good. And yes, sometimes I passed off a business card or plugged an upcoming event or mentioned one of my favorite restaurants because someone was going out that night. It’s just part of being human.

  2. Twitter, like anything else, is what we make of it.

    We can attend church and only hear the noise. We can go to the coffee shop and only hear the noise. We can go to the chamber of commerce meeting and only hear the noise. You can visit the hospital and only see the pain and suffering.

    But if your goal is to share life with other people, all of these and more are valuable.

    Thanks for the post, Jon.

  3. People always put down the short communications via Facebook & Twitter – you know, the ones like, “I just brushed my teeth.”

    But as you said, Jon, it’s all about conversation. Somebody out there might want to know about what toothpaste you just used. And that may be the start of a deeper relationship!