November 29, 2010
My 30-Day Twitter Experiment (Pt 1)
Five boundaries to keep tweets from corroding your soul.
Last November I wrote a blog post titled “Why I Don’t Tweet … Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It.” The spark for the post came from a brief interaction with Ed Stetzer about Twitter. A prolific tweeterer (is that a word?), he was shocked to learn I didn’t tweet and wanted to know why. So I put fingers to keyboard and articulated 10 reasons–some rooted in my understanding of faith and discipleship and others clearly tongue in cheek (like #8: “Ashton Kutcher”).
I got a lot of traffic out of that post. Some applauded my reasons for not tweeting, others pointed out holes in my logic. Some incorrectly interpreted my post as condemning those who tweet despite my title clearly stating the opposite. One response came from my friend, Chris Grant (@ChrisJGrant). He gave a presentation to a group of authors about the challenges facing writers in the rapidly shifting world of publishing. The first point of Chris’ talk was “Skye Jethani is right about Twitter. Now he should start tweeting.”
I listened to Chris’s argument in which he challenged me to try tweeting without slipping into the soul-eroding, self-obsessive tendencies I wrote about in my post. I was intrigued by our conversation. Could I engage a medium like Twitter and not succumb to its pitfalls? Had I written off tweeting too soon? Does it at least deserve a try?
I decided to accept Chris’ challenge. I would try tweeting for one month to determine if I could engage Twitter in a redemptive way that would not erode my soul, and then write a follow-up post about my experience. (Ironically, Chris is a marketer, so by accepting his advice I violated of my 7th reason for not tweeting: “I’m tired of obeying marketers.” The intersection of marketing and ministry still makes me dizzy and occasionally nauseous, but I respect Chris because he shares my distaste for unreflective Christian promotional efforts.)
Launching my 30 day Twitter experiment wasn’t as simple as registering and tweeting about my morning tea. I wanted to begin with certain safeguards in place and some clear guidelines for my use of Twitter. I needed boundaries to avoid slipping into the Twitter tendencies I wrote about in my “Why I Don’t Tweet” post. Here’s what I came up with:
No solo-tweeting. In “Why I Don’t Tweet” I hypothesized that many people engage Twitter because they want a witness to their life, someone to notice them, and therefore feel significant (reason #10). I did not want Twitter to become a substitute for the only witnesses to my life that really matter–my wife and my Lord. So I included Amanda (and my close friend, Dan) in my Twitter experiment for accountability. Amanda registered on Twitter and only follows one person–me. She checks my tweets and looks for signs that I’m getting off track or wandering beyond the boundaries listed here. We all need “soul friends” that help us guard against our worst enemy–ourselves.
No ego-tweeting. I really wanted to tweet in a manner that would benefit and bless others. But let’s be honest, a lot of tweets serve no one but the person writing them. You know what I’m talking about…the tweets designed to make you envious of their life and depressed about your own. These tweets shout, Look where I am! Look who I’m with! Look what I just did! “Great meeting at the White House this morning. Now off for lattes with Bono and Bill Hybels. Love this new iPad.” To avoid ego-tweeting I would not name drop or place drop and try to only include info helpful to my readers (I refuse to call you “followers.”) I wanted people to feel better after reading my tweets, not worse and definitely not envious.
No auto-tweeting. Sarah Pulliam Bailey (@spulliam) ponders a great question in one of here tweets: “don’t know y xian leadrs twt in airports.” Some folks tweet on autopilot. No matter what they’re doing, no matter where they are, every mundane detail of their day gets posted for others to read. Auto-tweeting has two problems–it bores readers and it interferes with real relationships. It’s one thing if a meeting gets interrupted by a phone call, but please don’t ignore what I’m saying so you can tweet about the fried zucchini spears. As a culture we are increasingly struggling with being present. Our minds are always somewhere else. Again, my principle of tweeting for the sake of others meant avoiding meaningless and mundane tweets, and not tweeting while engaged with a real live human.
No bozo-tweeting. My reasons for not tweeting #2 and #3 both fall into the category of bozo-tweeting. From a desire to be funny, provocative, or just noticed, some folks act like idiots on Twitter. I did not want to “tweet and regret” which meant no clowning around on Twitter; no going for the cheap laugh. And while 140 characters is enough space for banter and superficial chit chat, it’s terrible for meaningful and nuanced conversation. I didn’t want to engage in deeper dialogue via Twitter that might result in miscommunication or misunderstanding. Every medium must be respected for what it is and it must not be asked to carry a burden it was not intended to lift. A tweet is not a sermon, just as a blog post is not a book.
No astro-tweeting. Twitter has been praised by many as a truly grassroots medium. We’ve seen it used by revolutionaries in Iran to spread news about government oppression, and by the Tea Party movement to spread news about … well, Dancing With the Stars. But sometimes what appears to be an authentic, organic, grassroots movement is really a manufactured, fake, and manufactured agenda. It’s astroturf. So I decided not to use my tweets as a marketing tool for corporations or candidates. No selling, no promotions, no pushing product.
These are the boundaries I started my 30 Day Twitter Experiment with. How well did I stick to these parameters? I’ll talk about that in my next post along with how I think Twitter can be used to benefit and bless others. Finally, I’ll share my thinking about tweeting now that I’ve actually given it a fair try.