Day 13: Community on Twitter? Really?

Building community over Twitter is hard. I have been tweeting now for almost half a month (yeah, well when you’re my age, that’s like dog years) and I am still having a hard time seeing community–oh, I’ve read people who say it’s there–but I haven’t seen it. In fact, I feel more like an outsider looking into other people’s fun lives. For instance, a couple of tweeters got engaged the other day and announced it on Twitter. It was really cute and as the congratulations came scrolling in (I almost sent one myself) I had to remind myself–I don’t know these people—at all! I am just a lonely follower who found their names on my Twitter recommended list and thought their picture or their screen name looked nice. As lovely as that is, is it community?  Is it the basis for community? Is it a small glimmer of community shining through a glass darkly?

According to David Hansen, blogger and frequent tweeter, Twitter is made up of “a group of stranger-friends” where we “offer one another mutual support and prayer. We mourn together, seek advice together, and rejoice together. I consider this community.” As much as I yearn for that, I simply don’t see it flourishing in my experiences, each made up of 140 characters.  According to Elizabeth Drescher, author of Tweet if you heart Jesus (and also a twitter “friend”), the power of social media is in the social aspect—not the broadcast aspect. It is when we share with others about our days or our thinking that we build the stepping stones of relationship. While that sounds SO compelling, the closest thing to an “interpersonal conversation” I have had is when someone told me I simply didn’t understand how to use Twitter. Those 140 characters cut me like a virtual knife–but at least he talked to me.

David Hansen asks an interesting question: “is being ‘face-to-face’ really the most important common denominator for community?”  After spending countless Sunday mornings talking to people who I know as well as my formless twitter friends, I would have to say “no”, relationship-building is clearly the most important part of building community. When you don’t spend time interacting with one another, whether online or face to face, community won’t work. But, my bottom-line problem is that I haven’t figured out how Twitter works as “interaction”. It seems more hopelessly one-way and broadcast-based than Facebook.

So here I am.  Frustrated and skeptical of those who preach the gospel of ministry and love through Twitter. I want to believe. I really do.  I want to be a Twitter cheerleader, an agent of change, a virtual lover of all things new, but after “following” every person I know in real life and trying to “talk” with my new formless Twitter friends who don’t have a clue who I am, I am tired.  So if you happen to read this and DO feel community on Twitter, please talk to me. Tell me what it takes. Tell me what to do before I become a Twitter drop out.

3 Replies to “Day 13: Community on Twitter? Really?”

  1. @11oclockscholar Twitter is a hard one. Fewer users than Facebook, but a lot of people worth hearing from. You get to "know" people by responding, so maybe you should have gone ahead and congratulated the happy couple. (I didn't.) Live tweeted events such as the ordination of one of my classmates are another thing Twitter can be good for. I particularly enjoy tweets from those I already know in real life. I personally think Twitter can be great for enhancing existing community, but beyond that, if it's a community, it's a "thin" community.

  2. Now that is really helpful! I can handle trying to build community with the 3 people I know who actually Twitter–that makes more sense than getting to know strangers. The event coverage is also a great idea–when I think about it, those are some of the funnest times I've had on Twitter.

  3. Twitter is a system. Like the highway system it is used by different people in different ways to get different things. Your experience of Twitter is entirely dependent on how those you follow use it. If they have a bunch of look at me bumper stickers and slam on the community breaks then it'll be a bummer to use like the highway system. Pick good Tweeters to follow. You get to determine what is good. Different than the highway system, Twitter powers your ability to reply to those around you. I wish people driving next to me had their phone numbers as license plates. 🙂 Use your @ replies to talk to people. It's a public square. Don't be weird about your replies as would not be weird in public. Easy. If you'd been next to the folks who got engaged in public you might not have congratulated them. If they were in one of your classes or knew someone you knew you might. Simple. One of the most important things I've noticed about social in real life is only amplified in the social internet context. People deeply desire to be heard. The way you do that in real life is to look at them in the eye when they talk and call them. The way you do that digitally is to comment. So comment. It'll change your "experience" of Twitter. Caught wind of your 30 day project from a the BU mag. Thought I'd stop by. Best.

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