Melissa Wiginton: Down with Twitter

Do I have to Tweet in order to have credibility? Do they have a saying in their movement “Never trust anyone who doesn’t do Twitter?”

I am one of the youngest Baby Boomers. I squeaked in, but still affiliated with the tradition whose canon includes The Graduate (“Plastics”), “Never trust anyone over 30” (a saying of The Movement. Google it.) and the ERA (the most obscure of all). But I see now that perhaps I am no young iconoclast. First, I am no longer young. Second, we were about changing the bad old ways, not rebelling against the new and the cool. And now there is Twitter.

Twitter allows instantaneous transmission of 140 character messages as a simple way to keep people connected. You can write messages for your followers or you can be a follower of another person (often a celebrity) on Twitter. You can follow anyone from Larry King to your best friend from high school (fyi., tag “yourmom” is taken.)

I recently heard a preacher say that his congregation has a designated Tweeter (Twitterer?) for each worship service. Lots of his people twitter during worship, but one person is assigned to tweet whatever pops into his or her head. I really don’t want to know whatever pops into someone else’s head as a sermon is being preached, a prayer prayed or a song sung. Clearly, I did not understand, but not wanting to criticize (see Bob Dylan: “The Times They Are A Changin’”), I asked several younger people present about this.

They said there should be some limits. One should not twitter during the reading of the Gospel, for example. But otherwise it is cool. I said I thought it was rude. But apparently that’s a “generational thing” (Code for “Get over it”?). Some young pastors want to posts tweets on a screen where everyone can see them during worship, I guess to connect by knowing what others are thinking. One said, “You know our generation. We want our voices heard.”

Now, I have learned a few things along the way and one is this: We all want our voices heard. But self-expression is what happens when we tweet. Being heard happens when we listen. It’s not the same thing.

I know young adults are talking to each other about these matters--asking questions about how technology shapes us, most frequently making a case for its power for good. I know too that some young adults attend to how they use technology: some practice a discipline of publicly unplugging for days of family time or for quiet. I know Boomer pastors who don’t, who couldn’t, do that.

What I don’t know is where and how we (older folks like me and younger folks bred with technology) have an honest theological, reflective and mutually transforming dialogue about . . . well, about anything. 140 character messages don’t bring out my best self. I get snarky and caustic. Maybe I could learn. But do I have to Tweet in order to have credibility in genuine conversation? Do they have a saying, “Never trust anyone who doesn’t twitter?”

You know my generation. We think we will always be young, hip, even prophetic. But we won’t be (have you seen Dennis Hopper advertise for retirement planning?). I just hope we can figure out how to stay in the conversation without having to rely solely on our thumbs. Younger people—especially many of the younger pastors I know—have interesting and important things to say; things I want to talk with them about. Just not 140 characters at a time.

Melissa Wiginton is Vice President for Ministry Programs and Planning at the Fund for Theological Education.