This afternoon, hot on the heels of The Australian’s James Massola’s spectacular and unwarranted “outing” of Canberra public servant Greg Jericho as the person behind the anonymous blog, Grog’s Gamut (and the associated Twitter account @grogsgamut), Canberra journalism academic and prolific tweep Jason Wilson declared his imminent and permanent departure from the twitterverse. You can read his explanation here.
Coincidentally, Brisbane-based Baptist minister Stan Fetting blogged today about the use of Twitter by Christians, in an article provocatively titled “Twitter – and the rise of Digital Narcissism.” I happen to disagree with most of his opinions in the article, but what arrested my attention was that Stan published my three most recent tweets (without context, naturally) as an example of the content tweeted by six Christian leaders.
I suppose I should be gratified that Stan considers me to be in the league of Mark Driscoll, Alan Hirsch and Rick Warren, at least when it comes to personal tweeting, but I found his “outing” of me mildly disconcerting – especially since I had just digested Jason Wilson’s article and browsed the tweets responding to his decision to leave Twitter.
I have always recognised that Twitter was absolutely a public medium, and that my tweets may be misconstrued (deliberately or otherwise) or used in ways that are disadvantageous to me now or in the future. I chose from the beginning to participate in the twitterverse with all the risks that entailed. And, for the record, I won’t be stopping in the forseeable future.
But Stan Fetting’s critical article deserves a considered response, and here’s my initial offering which I posted as a comment on his blog this afternoon:
Part of the genius of Twitter is its simplicity. Like other social media, it is nothing more nor less than a platform for distributing information.
If you know what you want to get out of it, and what you’re willing to share on it, Twitter can be a richly rewarding medium. Many of my Christian friends have opened a Twitter account (some of them on my recommendation) only to discover that they don’t have much to contribute, or don’t have the time, or Facebook already dominates their online lives, or they simply don’t know who to follow for the best content.
I was for a long time a Twitter sceptic. I dismissed the possibility of achieving much in 140 characters, and smiled patronisingly at the thought of all those people “tweeting what they had for breakfast.” But one year after I joined Facebook, I opened a Twitter account in order to dip a reluctant toe in the water, and haven’t looked back.
There are pitfalls, and good reasons not to be on Twitter (which I may soon address elsewhere), but here are my top reasons for investing time on Twitter and encouraging others to do likewise:
1. Twitter creates community.
2. Twitter is simple and free, and (at least at the moment) unencumbered by advertising. And an application like Tweetdeck enhances the online experience.
3. Twitter provides immediate, direct and concise access to rich sources of information (both online and off-line).
4. Twitter can be highly entertaining and intellectually stimulating – and challenging. If you say something controversial, you’d better be able to defend it. And you’d better be comfortable with the prospect of strong public disagreement.
5. At the same time, with two or three notable exceptions, I have found the Twitter community to be civil and respectful of significant differences of opinion on spirituality, politics and morality.
6. Twitter is the most efficient and effective means I know to deliver my regular summaries of news and opinion, something I previously did via a weekly email with pdf attachment. For the current format see http://twitter.com/reaustralia
7. Those who know me well know that I have a dry wit. I’m also into parody and satire. Twitter is a place where I can share my wit with an audience that appreciates it and recommends my tweets to others.
Now quit moaning and get tweeting, comrades. It’s not about what you had for breakfast. It’s about what moves you, inspires you, challenges you.