OK, I have a confession to make. For the past year or so, I have been a part of the Twitter-verse. The fact that I am on Twitter, however, is not the confession. My confession is that for the past year or so, I have not “gotten” Twitter. In other words, for all it’s press, pomp and circumstance, I never really found a good use for Twitter. However, last month I attended a few sessions at a Christian conference, and my experience there helped me see what I had been missing about Twitter. Seeing the upside of Twitter, however, convinced me that I probably did not WANT to “get it.”
For a year, Twitter had all the appearances to me of standing on a street corner and shouting 140 characters at a time, hoping someone (anyone) would hear. This seemed pointless for a “normal” person like me. Sure, I could see where Twitter would be helpful if you were a pro athlete wanting to avoid a press conference or the President wanting to encourage people to vote, but as a person who most people don’t care to listen to, I could not see the utility for me to Tweet.
At this conference, however, I saw demonstrated before me how to focus Twitter’s power. The key is the “hashtag.” For those of you not familiar with the hashtag, you create one by putting the “#” symbol in front of a word or words without spaces, making the post searchable inside Tweet land. In other words, if I wanted to see what the world was thinking about the World Cup, I might search #worldcup and get a long stream of thoughts from people all over the world concerning that event. In a sense, it allows us to have #conversations with people we might not otherwise #know. This is potentially good news for communication. What I found at the conference in July, however, was that this served more as a disruption than an enhancement to real understanding.
The conference issued a hashtag for the event and encouraged people to “join the conversation” online. With wireless installed throughout the building, literally every moment of the event became tweetable. During the main sessions of the event, this constant stream of virtual noise, became particularly troublesome to me. Everyone surrounding me was “joining the conversation” online while the speaker was speaking, so I decided to go take a peak to see what all the fuss was about. What I saw was depressing. Literally hundreds of tweets immediately filled my screen letting me know exactly what everyone else was thinking about the speaker. This constant chatter, though technically silent, was so virtually loud, it was drowning out the voice of the actual speaker in the room we had all paid to come hear. As I watched the tweets pile up I realized that people were probably thinking as much about their next witty 140 characters as they were about the main point the speaker was trying to make. Like yesterday’s post about the DVR, I began to be depressed by the technology. Like lots of things, Twitter was designed to help facilitate learning and community at the conference. In the end, however, it proved to be just another self-centered stage where we could focus on ourselves instead of giving someone else the space to teach us.
Now, if you have read my last two posts, you probably think that I am anti-technology, downing the DVR and Twitter in two consecutive posts. I actually think both are valuable and offer some real helps to us in our world. I also use both things most every week (#soonermark). I simply am going through a phase right now where I am seeing the negatives to these devices as well as their positives. Any device that helps me communicate with others is a positive. Any device that encourages me to think more about me than others in that conversation is potentially a problem. The difficulty with the social media world we now live in is that it encourages us to be performers and our friends to be our audience. When we view the world this way, we seldom give others the chance to get “on stage.” In the case of the conference I attended, I think I would have learned a lot more listening to the speaker instead of thinking of what funny one-liner I could post that would allow me to “join the conversation online.”