Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Recently I was at a seminar on social media by a man who has 40,000 Twitter followers. He told us the story of how he was having trouble with his cable connection and sent out a tweet complaining about it. The next day Comcast’s truck was at his doorstep and they laid brand new cable for his entire block!
Now, that's certainly impressive, but it got me thinking—is there any other form of mass communication that you could send out a complaint like that to 40,000 people and it not be narcissistic?
In other words, imagine walking up to 40,000 people at a time and complaining to them about the speed of your cable connection, or sending out 40,000 letters or emails, or an announcement on the radio or television to 40,000 people that your cable connection was slow. How does it benefit 40,000 people to hear that you’re annoyed at the speed of your computer’s cable connection?
Pascal, a 17th century philosopher and mathematician, wrote, “We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves; we desire to live an imaginary life in the minds of others, and for this purpose we endeavor to shine."
Facebook and Twitter give us the chance to do that: to constantly insert ourselves into other people’s minds with the trivialities or our own lives. So, here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself lately about my facebook posts:
  • Am I using this post to get what I want, to maintain a certain image or identity, or to bring other people a better life? Who benefits from this?
  • If I were to give up this aspect of social media, would I feel that something important is missing from my life? I heard about a study of college students in which they had to give up social media and networking for a week and after three days one girl needed to see a therapist. “I feel like people might have forgotten about me,” she said. She needed to know that she was living in other people’s minds.
  • If no on “likes” or comments on one of my status updates, photos, blog entries, etc.… do I feel overlooked, hurt or slighted? Honestly, sometimes I do. And when I do, I can’t help but think of Pascal’s words once again.
What do you think? Is it (or isn't it) self-centered to inform 40,000 people that your cable connection is annoyingly slow?
(Computer keyboard image compliments of


Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily believe it makes one self-centered. I personally don't tweet or follow anyone on twitter. I don't want to follow anyone's every move. I do think social media (like Facebook) makes us feel connected to other people. God made us social creatures. Social media is a good way to keep up with friends and family and not feel isolated.

Melissa said...

Interesting article. I'm not a huge social media person. I joined FB for the sole purpose of following a few authors who either don't have websites or their websites aren't frequently updated. Since then I've ended up with several acquaintances most of whom I wouldn't talk to for more than five minutes if we were in the same room together.

For some time I've called it a place to brag, to complain, and to share the mundane aspects of life. I see very few posts that are particularly engaging and a LOT that I have no idea why it's my business (or why I would care) to know that about someone and what possessed them to share it with virtual strangers.

Anyway, for the primary reason I signed up for it, it's great. However, overall I find the influence of Twitter and FB a bit unsettling. I don't know that it's self-centered to complain about an internet connection, but I do wonder why anyone cared, especially enough to generate that type of response to/from Comcast.

Loren said...

Hey Steven....

I have been trying to find the Bishop in the audio book form for my husband. He has read all your books and has been patiently waiting for this one to be released on Do you have any idea when or if this is going to be an option?

Thank you for your time ~ I look forward to hearing from you!

Loren McGhee

Kent Barnes said...

Hey Steven,
Ok, so a story teller is complaining about people telling very small stories about their lives on FB and twitter?!
"I know this sounds a little odd to say, but stories help us to start believing the things we already know." Steven James.
It's that "resonating" story that attracts us to each other, the commonalities of life that say, "I am not alone." That's why Comcast got their act together to fix up the cable -- they didn't want the story out that cable is slow. In the small things, that whole neighbourhood benefited from one man's voice. Your musing brings to light that being a part of a community counts. The ability to reflect together has the potential of revealing the purpose of each individual and the community at large. Having that connection can produce great results if managed properly, and with purpose.

Steven James said...

Thanks for the good thoughts!

Perhaps it's helpful to differentiate between maintaining friendships with those close to us, as Anonymous pointed out, and sharing the trivialities of our lives with tens of thousands of people.

Kent, thanks for keeping the conversation going! I agree that stories and community matter; I'm just not yet convinced that taking up people's time complaining about a small inconvenience is a good way of serving those people. When I teach about storytelling, I usually remind folks that stories should be told for the benefit of the listeners, not so that the storyteller can vent or just get something off his chest.

I can see how Twitter does give businesses the opportunity to respond quickly to consumer issues, but I can't see how the cable complaint was an act of humility, grace or selflessness.

ryan said...


Have you read or heard of 'Hurt' by Chap Clark or "All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes" ?

Both seem to get to the point that we are all desperately lonely and facebook, texting, and other forms of communication that aren't face to face while feel as if they bring us closer together since they are easier to use - do the exact opposite and make us more and more lonely than before.

So I agree with your post and questions. I work with youth and the more postings about trivial things - the more I see a kid reaching out for affection or love in the wrong way. I in no way saying fb, twitter, texting, etc. is wrong. I do all the above! But, I think it like anything can be used either FOR god's glory or against His glory.

Therefore, it can either be a good thing or bad - depending on how we use it and our motives. Just like the internet can be used to promote a church's website or it can be used for pornography.

But either way - we can't ever replace REAL life interactive relationships with these FAKE ones online.
Thanks for asking the question.

Momma Olson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven James said...

Ryan, I have heard of "All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes" but have not read it.

Your comments about teens brought to mind a book I've started reading: "Alone Together" by Sherry Turkle. It's a fascinating and sobering look at how some of these issues are affecting our culture and reshaping our society. She points out that college used to be a place for the next generation to start over, but not anymore. Their high school days--mistakes, posts, "friends"--will follow them, affect them forever. She interviewed one teen for an hour and when the interview was over he had 100 text messages. He looked at her wearily and said, "How long do I have to do this?"

And the answer is, every day for the rest of your life--unless you do something to change that.

Tanya said...

I consider it a complete waste of time to post or read about someone's "slow cable"... I mean, really? I wouldn't even bore my mother with such triviality! I do hope that whatever I write on FB has meaning to more than just me. If it doesn't encourage, inspire, convict or make one ponder... then it is a waste of time. No one wants to know what I ate for lunch or if my dry cleaning is too expensive. And if what I do manage to write still bores readers, they can move along and ignore my post as I have done on many occasions. So yes, I do think it self centered to gripe to the masses. Do we have anything better to say? Please tell me we have more depth to us than that.

Steven James said...

You're right Tanya. Reading your note reminded me how short life is; how solitude and silence and deeper reflection make it more meaningful. So many things vie for my attention and I have to keep asking myself, "Is this something that adds to my life or not?"

Arkatox said...

I personally use Facebook because I believe it's fun to use a network like it to stay in contact and chat with not only friends that I know in real life, but also new friends that I make through fan pages of authors such as Ted Dekker and Erin Healy. And of course Steven James, but that has yet to happen. :)

I complain on my Facebook account all of the time, and I do it because I feel like it. I express my opinions because I need to do it somewhere, and Facebook is always just THERE.

Meh, I guess that's just me. I don't use Facebook as a game site to play stupid little games (that unfortunately are addicting, so I hardly ever play them), but rather as a tool for communication.

Anonymous said...

Like anything else, social media can be a lifesaver or a dangerous enterprise. I use fb to keep in touch with those I can't possibly find the time to keep in touch with in a conventional way. As a military spouse, I'm constantly "moving on" geographically. I LOVE knowing what my former neighbors are doing in Seattle or Honolulu or Norfolk.

That being said, I recognize this reaching out and sharing mundane details of our lives for what it is; a pale imitation of what our souls hunger for and were meant to experience. Connectivity on a spiritual level is an intense, addictive experience. Those moments of connection tend to divide our lives into chapters. And once experienced, it's hard not to strive to duplicate them.

Social media can FEEL like a spiritual experience at 3am when we're lonely and sleepless but most times, it's just a social experience. Most times.

Steven said...

Good thoughts. I keep asking myself, "How many people do I need to keep in touch with?" It's not an easy question. As I've traveled over the past 16 years I've met thousands of people I could stay connected with--hundreds that I might be tempted to--but my time doesn't allow for that. Fb is redefining what a friend is, and it's overwhelming to me to think about the implications.