Thursday, March 05, 2009

Twitter & Our Super-Face-ial Culture

Twitter and Facebook are emergent properties of our culture. They are now with us and will soon be gone, to be replaced by something that will make them seem as archaic as a newspaper, and at a cultural speed that would make Alvin Toffler drop his jaw in awe.

I'm on both of them. I like getting instant photos from my son and daughter-in-law who work in Japan. I feel enormously thankful for something as simple as e-mail (remember that?), which keeps me connected to them. It's far better for me to be able to contact them via their Vonage setup that allows me to dial a number in Ann Arbor that connects me to Takayama at no charge. Amazing!

Yet... I resonate with what Julie Manga says in her nytimes letter "140 Characters In Search of Some Meaning." "Twitter cuts both ways. There is certainly something refreshing about (apparently) uncensored, direct communication among people. But while perhaps intended to connect and inform, Twitter and other similar venues (like Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and reality TV) can become an addictive distraction in life. They can be yet another means to dissipate our attention, get caught in seductive details and take us away from being present in the moment of our own lives and to the issues that affect our lives... I am not a Twitter-basher. I simply offer a caution that we be self-reflective about its impact on our lives personally and as a society."

Some people are now LIVING on Facebook. On the rare occasions I make an appearance, there they are, as if they'd never left, sitting in the living room of "online friends" waiting to say hello. Are they married? Do they have children" A job? Are they "on the job" when they twitter? Do we really need to know that, right now, Mary "is disappointed" and Bob "wonders if Friday will ever get here" and Katie "is a fan of Old Navy" and Jason and Jenni "ended their relationship?"

Thomas Merton, were he alive today, would never live like this. Merton never watched TV, yet possessed an uncommon wisdom about life and the world he lived in. If we become a total Facebook-culture that's what we will lose, because it's what's beneath the face that actually matters. Face-to-face is better than face-book. To meditate is better than to twitter. There's a ministry of presence and a ministry of absence (Henri Nouwen). There are some things that are not for the whole world to know. Besides, most people could care less that Angie "is now angry and going to bed."