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Home » Blog

Twitter -the rise and rise of Digital Narcissism

Submitted by on September 29, 2010 – 2:46 pm 20 Comments

It’s 2010 and we are all supposed to be up there with the latest digital trends aren’t we? By now we should all have an iPhone 4, and at the very least a Facebook account and if we are really with it: Twitter.

If anyone should be a fan of Twitter it’s me, I am a communications manager after all. Well let me nail my colours to the mast up front:

I think that for the most part Twitter is digital narcissism. A digital black hole of time and attention, a pixelated promenade for exhibitionists, wannabee comedians and put down artists. One street back from the promenade it’s a digital mall for marketers, hawkers and traffic re-directors. One street back from them it’s a haven for the imagination deprived who simply ‘re-tweet’ what others have tweeted. Further down the promenade it becomes an exclusive residential foreshore where the kings and queens of the Twitterverse, the creme de la crème of the Twitterati live. These are the ones who for one reason or another have managed to rise to the top, and have countless fawning, re-tweeting followers who hang off their every tweet, gawking through the gates in an attempt to satisfy their celebrity cravings, 140 characters at a time. Well that was balanced wasn’t?

But wait there’s more:

During our recent election I followed the debate on the #ausvotes ‘hashtag’ throughout the election. Every now and then some breaking news would be posted by a journalist hot on the scene of a development but for the most part it seems to be a competition for who can come up with the most pithy put down of the opposite side of politics.

ABC displays a Twitter feed during Question and Answer each Monday night and the selected tweets (many of them are vile and un-broadcastable) are a never ending stream of sarcasm or attempted witticisms. Just what they add to the mix I’m not sure. I’ve always felt thoroughly depressed by the vile cut and thrust of Twitter debate in the political hashtag discussions.

Good Twitter

Moving away (briefly) from the heights of hyperbole, let me acknowledge where I think Twitter comes into its own. Firstly for the uninitiated, Twitter is a website, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., which offers a social networking and microblogging service which enables its users to send and read other users’ messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the user’s profile page. Tweets are publicly visible by default, however senders can restrict message delivery to their friends list. Users may subscribe to other author tweets—this is known as following and subscribers are known as followers. (Source) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter

Unlike me, many young Iranians love Twitter, and it has enabled them to have a voice and a communications network in a context where their freedom is restricted by a repressive regime. As Lev Grossman from Time writes:

So what exactly makes Twitter the medium of the moment? It’s free, highly mobile, very personal and very quick. It’s also built to spread, and fast. Twitterers like to append notes called hashtags — #theylooklikethis — to their tweets, so that they can be grouped and searched for by topic; especially interesting or urgent tweets tend to get picked up and retransmitted by other Twitterers, a practice known as retweeting, or just RT. And Twitter is promiscuous by nature: tweets go out over two networks, the Internet and SMS, the network that cell phones use for text messages, and they can be received and read on practically anything with a screen and a network connection.

This makes Twitter practically ideal for a mass protest movement, both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. The same might be true of e-mail and Facebook, but those media aren’t public. They don’t broadcast, as Twitter does.

Read the full article Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement

The regime is so scared of the digital revolution that they are incarcerating bloggers. Yesterday an Iranian blogger received a 19 year sentence for “cooperation with hostile countries, spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment, promotion of counter-revolutionary groups and insulting Islamic thoughts and religious figures.” Source

In communities, and churches where there is a high percentage of Twitter users, I acknowledge that Twitter is a useful medium for fostering closer connections, enabling more effective communication, and for interaction. However, for the most part, your average Baptist church has a very low percentage of Twitter users. Some inner city church plants that target students and young adults may have higher Twitter user percentages but for the most part, when it come to ministry in a Baptist context – Twitter is irrelevant.

As far as connecting to an audience outside the church, that again depends on the demographics. If I were a pastor living amongst a Twi-literate community, I would live on Twitter. However, for contexts outside of high-tweeter-density, (after following a range of Christian notables over the last few years, and well known Baptist tweeters closer to home), I remain unconvinced.

Facebook vs Twitter

Australians do use social media a lot. Digital Marketing Lab have compiled some stats to show the reach of social media in Australia:

  • 75% of Australian Internet users (75%) have visited Facebook, whilst 59% have a Facebook profile.
  • The average time spent on Facebook in a given month is 8:19 hours – seven and a half hours more than its closest rival site, YouTube.
  • 20% of Australians aged 55 or older had reported using Facebook. This trend is being driven by grandparents wishing to keep in touch with their grand children.
  • Over the past year Facebook has experienced phenomenal growth in Australia. In May 2009 Facebook had approximately 5 million users in Australia and a reach of 38% of online Australians.
  • In September 2009, Twitter users in Australia peaked at 1.6 million unique users and in January 2010 this dropped back to 1.2 million users
  • Twitter users spent an average of 19 minutes each month using the micro blogging site
  • Twitter’s audience levels grew by more than 400% in 2009
  • 23% of Australians online read ‘tweets’ in the past year whilst 14% ‘followed’ companies or organisations via Twitter (up from 5% in 2008)
  • 2010 Outlook:  Many experts believe Twitter has hit its peak and will plateau. It seems this could very much be the case in Australia with it stagnating user base in the past 4 – 5 months. Source

The uptake of Facebook, especially amonst older users, and the death of MySpace which is driving younger users to Facebook, presents a strong case for Facebook being the most relevant social media platform for churches. Facebook has its fair share of trivial, irrelevant posts but the generally it is capable of much richer forms of communication that the 140 character world of Twitter.

Christian Twitterati.

I would divide the Christian Twitterati into a few categories (not everyone fits into these):

1. Linkers – these tweeters only ever seem to post links back to their website letting you know about a new article, etc.

2. Re-linkers – these tweeters only ever seem to post links that the people above post.

3. Marketeers – these tweeters post links to their latest book, product, conference, etc.

4. Quoter’s – these tweeters post wise or pithy quotes they garner from other sources.

5. Reality Tweeters – “on my way the shops” – need I say any more?

There doesn’t appear to be a lot of original content, but a limit of 140 characters pretty much seals that outcome.

The Evidence

Earlier this morning I trawled through a number of Christian Tweeters that Crossover follows on its own Twitter feed (twitter.com/crossoveroz).

I took the first 3 stand alone tweets on each persons Twitter feed. Here below is what I found:

Mark Driscoll, pastor, author, church planter, blogger

  • The Push to Ordain Female Priests Gains Ground. http://ow.ly/2LlJK
  • Apparently someone counted the # of times I said Jesus in a recent sermon & the total was 174. About once every 20 seconds.
  • Acts 29 church planting board in Seattle to meet & run our bootcamp. Some of the best men on earth.

Tim Challies, author, reformed blogger

  • If I understood Google Analytics better, I’d probably let all that data drive my blogging. But I’m not so good with numbers…
  • Today at the blog I review a few recent Pulitzer Prize winning novels (Is it puh-litzer or pew-litzer?). http://bit.ly/ci4q0M
  • A La Carte: fast food, a bit of Greek, Mohler changed his mind, Glenn Beck. http://bit.ly/cX4kTk

Alan Hirsch, author, blogger, missional thinker & agent provocateur

  • You gotta love Boxers; this one reminds me of my Roobie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58CZcCvwND4 (via @cammychurch)
  • Off to the uptown side of NOLA today. Two days at a really old house on St. Charles. Who was St. Charles anyway?
  • mQuest Missional Training http://bit.ly/a0rpv0 Next is in Dallas, Tuesday October 19th with Alan Hirsch. If you want to know more go to…

Doug Fields – youth ministry specialist, blogger, author

  • Preparing speaking engagements for Dallas, San Diego, Colorado, Pittsburgh & back to Dallas. Back/forth in 10 days & only miss 1 VB game.
  • My favorite all-time college football player… #fb http://plixi.com/p/47482700
  • After 8 hrs of HS volleyball…it’s time to watch 3-0 APU Cougar football. Soon, a photo of my favorite college athlete. #fb

Rick Warren – pastor, author, adviser to Presidents, Hawaiian short fanatic, etc

  • I believe in freedom for all, justice for all, opportunity for all, and salvation available to all.
  • Al, we did! Kay& I personally paid to print 500,000 MILITARY edition of Purpose Driven Life to give to our troops overseas
  • Kay gave 4,000 Prison Edition Purpose Driven Life to inmates as she spoke. Wish I could give 1 to every inmate in America.

Rod Benson – Australian Baptist pastor, ethicist, lecturer, broadcaster, blogger

  • Hello tworld. Partly cloudy, chance of a shower, and a top of 18 degrees for Sydney today.
  • Aggghh! I’ve been agitated. Better unfollow the green conehead “before it’s too late.” RT @lapuntadelfin: @ben_hr Here http://arseh.at/f8
  • See what unintended consequences you unleashed, @jamesmassola? RT @wolfcat: Disclosure my name really is wolf and my wife is cat. #grogsgate

Mark Edwards – Australian Baptist pastor, blogger, Freo nut

  • Will Geelong bite bullet and go into rebuild mode? Need too
  • These guys on 7mate are psycho!
  • Gossip destroys, remember if they are talking to you about them, they are talking about you to them

Is anyone listening?

The turret from which my radio show bombed outI’ll let you make draw your own conclusions from the Tweets on offer above. I recognize the value in relevant contexts of any specific social media application, not just Twitter. However, context is everything.

I remember that during my first year of Bible college in England I got the job of being the DJ in the local hospital running their ‘radio station’. The hospital was a glorified geriatric ward, and my job on Wednesdays was to trawl around the wards asking folk what their ‘requests’ were. Most couldn’t hear, and of those who could some were in advance stages of dementia. Trying to get requests proved to be a traumatic affair. On Saturday mornings I would trudge down to hospital, climb the stairs to a small cupboard size room in the turret that sat like an erie above the hospital roof, and start ‘spinning’ my discs (we had LP records back in those days). The number one request was always The Old Rugged Cross by George Beverly Shea. But nobody listened. Nobody tuned in.  The last thing on their minds was my Saturday morning radio show.

I tried to console myself with thinking that perhaps even if only one person tuned in it would be worth it. But nobody tuned in, nobody was listening. In the end I gave it up, and sadly that was the end of any potential broadcasting career.

I rather suspect that if a lot of Tweeters were honest, they may as well be sitting in that little turret spinning old LP’s as well, because is anyone listening?

What do you think? Are you a Twit (sorry) a Tweeter. Am I an unreconstructed Troglodyte? Make your case. I’m all ears.

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  • Mark Edwards says:

    For me…twitter is not about you Stan.
    its about those outside of the church.

    Its become pretty clear to me
    Facebook…for those in the church, or part of its wider sphere.

    twitter…pure missional…
    it keeps me in touch with the real world, something I sadly lack.
    Lots of bad swearing, bad concepts….sort of like some of the people Jesus hung out with.

    and the footy side of it? well everyone needs an angle…

    every know and then I go into church marketing mode….just reminding people of who I am…and I have had heaps of conversations on twitter…

    the biggest mistake people make on twitter is not realising it is a conversation, you respond, people respond to you…

  • Rod Benson says:

    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.

    Rod (http://twitter.com/rod_benson)

  • stanfetting says:

    Yes I totally get that Twitter can be used for the purpose you indicate, as can Facebook (to a better degree). Footy and other angles are good and its what helps establish common ground.
    The PM side of Facebook is where a lot of dialogue happens between myself and my friends/connections/past connections, etc who are not believers

    The issue of the article though is that the use of Twitter contextually makes sense – but outside of that its not something we NEED to have. An organisation asked me recently if they “should have Twitter”. I advised them not to as they had no plans to drive content onto their Twitter feed and not much of their constituency uses Twitter.

  • stanfetting says:

    A great honour to have such a prodigious Tweeter comment. You make some excellent points about the value of Twitter. There are some things I would take issue with though:
    “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.”

    A perusal of #ausvotes or #qanda will show plenty of vile stuff. It’s often a shooting gallery, and all and sundry can take pot shots. The 140 character limit invites amateur comedians and it often just seems like a shouting match conducted through the medium of sarcastic one liners.

    Your wrote: “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.”

    Exactly my point – the modern phenomenon of self publishing through web platforms has created an opportunity for digital narcissism. In a world full of useless information Twitter enables us to add even more piffle and drivel to the mix.

    I agree that in normal conversation we say a lot of things to each other that are similar in nature – but the difference is that these little asides are not broadcast to a world audience.

    As can be seen from much of the tweets garnered in my article there’s not a lot to write home about. Twitter is often simply part of the long tail, rather than a destination in and of itself.

  • Matt Stone says:

    I confess, I’m a linker.
    I do my serious blogging and networking elsewhere.

  • stanfetting says:

    Yes but where would we be without Linkers? They alert us to treasures we would not otherwise find ourselves. The web is too large for lone sojourners, so we learn from one another. Thanks for being a Linker

  • Andrew Grant says:

    Interesting you’ve posted these two articles side by side.


    Could it be that Twitter is not necessarily the problem. Twitter could be neutral, it’s what happens to it through the fingers of the Twit or Tweeter (pun intended) which determines its validity.

    Further, no one forces us to follow the vacuous. The unfollow button is never far away. Maybe the failure to use unfollow is the same instinct in us that causes us to rubber neck car accidents.

  • stanfetting says:

    Indeed it is neutral. I’m simply responding to the ‘fad’ nature of it and the hoopla surrounding Twitter. I use it myself, simply for linking back to our site – and I also help others through driving content on their own Twitter feeds. As for any advice I could give to a lot of churches within our movement who somehow think that “we’d better get on Twitter”, my advice is only do it if it suits your context and if you do, try and be original. No matter what way you look at it what you are having for breakfast is surplus to requirement, unless its something truly noteworthy, like haggis…

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