college travels

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

‘Twitter is permissible, and may even be beneficial; but I will not be mastered by anything’

In an article I wrote for the Buzz e-news I gave the self-justification for giving in and joining the growing number of twitterers. Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:12, this post shares some of the dangers I’ve discovered, and my current strategies to keep twitter as a servant and not let it become the master.

4. Missing what’s happening because I’m telling other people what’s happening

A few months ago my youngest daughter and I were going out together to watch my other daughter in a school play. So my youngest and I had dinner at a little take-away chinese place in Wollongong. It was great sitting there with her perched up on her stool with her plate of spring rolls in front of her. I took a photo and posted it to facebook, with a caption something like ‘on a daddy-date with my daughter’. A wise friend replied, ‘so why are you on facebook then?!’

The advantage of twitter is the immediate update – real time reporting, ‘this is happening right now!’ The danger is that I end up like the tourist who spends their holiday looking at the world through the lens of their video camera and ends up missing out on actually seeing the world as it is.

So tweets will need to be mostly before and after the event. Does this kill the beauty of the technology? Perhaps; and perhaps there’ll be times when an immediate tweet is helpful – but if I end up one of those people who doesn’t look you in the eye when you’re speaking because I’m too busy bashing out a new tweet on my blackberry, then please come up and slap me.

3. Being constantly occupied with thinking I should be tweeting something profound

Now that I twitter my brain hasn’t just got a new task on the agenda, it has a new set of standing orders. I now have a new activity to fall back on in down times so that I never need to employ the services of a mental screen-saver. I’ve found that in the rare moments where I used to be able to just sit and think, I’m now busily constructing new thoughts to tweet to my loyal band of followers.

The problem is, for a Type A person like me, this puts me firmly on the path to a heart attack! My colleague Ruth Lukabyo diagnosed me a few years ago as dangerously Type A—the sort of person who finishes other people’s sentences, who walks quickly even if I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere, who stresses over whether they’ve chosen the shortest queue at the supermarket and who carries reading material everywhere just in case you have to sit somewhere and wait for three minutes and don’t have anything productive to do! All of which puts my brain in a constant state of stress, building an adrenaline addiction in my system that can lead to heart disease and premature death.

In his book, Adrenaline and Stress, Arch Hart outlines helpful remedies for Type A’s which includes the benefit of doing nothing every now and then. Our brains need some down time, and can often be far more creative when they’re given a bit of a break; the sort of breaks that come when you’re waiting in a supermarket queue, waiting for an appointment, sitting in traffic – as long as you’re not busily working on formulating your next tweet!

So my discipline is to not check twitter every time I’ve got a moment to spare (which doesn’t sound that difficult when I write it here, but actually is... which must be a sign of addiction!) and to train my mind to slow down, to smell the roses, enjoy the moment. Maybe if I keep doing that I’ll have more interesting thoughts to tweet!

2. Mistaking Twitter for the Bread of Life

My greatest addiction used to be coffee; I can see that it could easily become twitter.
The sign that coffee had become an addiction was when I found myself saying ‘I can’t get through the morning if I haven’t had a coffee before 7:30am’ (that, and the headaches I got when I tried to quit!). Yet at the same time I realised I was able to make it all the way to lunch without having prayed, and could go whole days without sitting in silence before God’s word. So the discipline was invoked, ‘no quiet time, no coffee’. I needed to express to myself that my need for the ministry of word and prayer was much more ‘vital’ in the literal meaning of being ‘life giving’ than coffee ever could be.

Now the discipline is to not read my twitter updates until I’ve read my Bible – my discipline of giving the first word to the God who I follow with my life, rather than to the twits I follow on my phone! It’s difficult because my phone doubles as my alarm clock – so the first thing I touch in the morning is this oh so tempting piece of communications technology. Maybe I should buy an alarm clock.

1. Living my life for the praise of men

This really is the biggest challenge of all for me. So much of my Christian life is lived publically; it’s one of the main occupational dangers of being in leadership ministry. So many of my reflections on and responses to God’s word are public, which makes me a prime candidate for the sort of hypocrisy that Jesus warned against in Matthew 6 – am I in this to be seen by others, or because I want to serve my heavenly Father? As Twitter gives the opportunity to share so much more of what’s going on in my life, it also gives the opportunity to shift the focus of my spiritual life from being lived for God to being on show for others: beware of tweeting your points of spiritual inspiration in order to be retweeted by others, I tell you the truth, you will have received your reward in full!

So my vow before God is to not tweet or facebook or blog or write about the things that are written in my personal journal of notes from my devotional Bible reading and prayers. This part of my life will be under the discipline of secrecy – not because it’s more noble to be secret; but because my heart is too weak to be able to avoid self-serving hypocrisy without this discipline to train me to love the praise of my Father in heaven more than the praise of men.

At times it’s killing me! I read something in the word and hear something from God that I’ve never realised before, make some connection that brings great clarity to some point of behaviour, or some aspect of church life or contemporary culture. And I think, if I tweet that I’ll sound profound and wise and maybe someone will retweet and maybe I’ll get more followers that John Piper or Mark Driscoll or Jodie McNeill!

But I’m not reading the word and sitting in silence before the Lord to wait for him to speak to someone else; and if I’m busily thinking about how to share these thoughts with the world I’m in danger of missing what he has to say to me. So I sit on the back deck in my quiet time chair, with my Bible and my journal. And I leave my Blackberry inside.

4 Comments:

  • "Type A—the sort of person who finishes other people’s sentences, who walks quickly even if I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere, who stresses over whether they’ve chosen the shortest queue at the supermarket and who carries reading material everywhere just in case you have to sit somewhere and wait for three minutes and don’t have anything productive to do! All of which puts my brain in a constant state of stress, building an adrenaline addiction in my system that can lead to heart disease and premature death."

    Deano ... I think you've just diagnosed me. Should I be worried?

    And on the previous point, missing what's happening because I'm in twitter world, I've noticed a similar temptation for me when I take Abby out for saturday breakfasts - the temptation is for me to give her a colouring book, grab a paper for myself and for us to basically ignore each other - Abby being absorbed in the world of pretty pictures and coloured crayons, me in the world of the Sydney Morning Herald. How much more important it is for us both to be in the moment and to actually spend the time together!

    By Anonymous Matt Jacobs, at 10:33 am  

  • I continually fall into the trap of caring more about what my friends/colleagues/people I barely know think about me than what my Lord and Saviour think.

    Hhhhmmmm.... I'm good at priorites, hey?

    By Anonymous peter, at 1:42 pm  

  • Graham, I have valued or enjoyed all of your Tweets. I have also benefited from them. And as you know at least one of them wouldn't leave me alone. For these resons I would prefer to get more Tweets from you not less.

    That said, given the reasons you've stated I hope, and pray, you do leave your BB inside.

    (PS You'll end up with more followers than Jodie anyway.)

    By Anonymous Greg B, at 1:59 pm  

  • been a while in responding sorry...

    @Matt - should you be worried? actually, probably yes! (should I still be worried? probably yes as well, since I still find myself falling into Type A patterns all too easily). If Arch Hart is right, we're building up an adrenaline addiction that raises cholesterol in your blood and brings on heart disease!

    By Blogger Graham Stanton, at 1:24 pm  

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