Musing: Twitter (Social Media) is not the Table

The central piece of furniture in our home is the table. It’s where we have community meetings, laugh with our children, and host as many people as will take us up on the offer to sit around it. I’ve reflected lots the last five or so years on the table as an image of the world put right. At the table in our home people have found sustence for their bodies and souls. We’ve cried, laughed, and some have shouted with rage, pounding the table. Its a place where life happens in all of its forms.

The table is a place where bodies gather. It’s a place where you can see how others are reacting to your words as you converse. It’s a place where you can react and change your tone when it feels apropriate because you’re aware that you may have caused someone pain. You know that you may have caused them pain not because they tell you with words, but because of the signals they send with their bodies; tears, squirming, stammering, hesitating, breathing differently, sweat on the brow etc.

When bodies are in the room communication changes. To intepret what someone ‘really' meant or to fully ‘hear’ a person it is good practice to be face to face. That is why you arrange a face to face meeting when the content is serious; you want to minimise the possibility for words to be heard in a way that you did not intend and it is easier to do so when there is a body in the room. Sitting around the table with bodies changes everything. Skin, bones, blood, tears and sweat; these things change the dynamic of communication. Twitter is not like the table, you can’t see, feel, touch and react to the bodies on the other side of 140 characters.

I love the connectivity of Twitter, I love the expereince of ‘meeting’ like-minded people, being pointed to an interesting article, and a good debate even tickles my fancy sometimes. The trouble is that when debate — some good robust, thoughtful and meaningful conversation — happens around the table there are bodies; bodies that send messages beyond, in, around, under, and over top of one’s words. It is not so on Twitter. Twitter offers a truncated kind of connection; a connection that is often missing a key ingredient of healthy relationships – trust; trust is a neccesary buffer in dealing with misunderstanding. Now this does not mean trust cannot be built in the cybersphere, but it’s definitely not straighforward. Its seems self explanatory that it is impossible to build trust with 1800 followers, many of them who will never darken the door of one’s house. What kind of ‘relationship’ or ‘connection’ happens on social media then? I’m trying to figure this out.

It may sound a bit silly but I think the best way for me to become comfortable with using Twitter is to try to meet as many Twitter-friends as possible in the flesh. To me, if this a goal, then Twitter becomes a portal into friendship; real friendship; friendship with the whole person. I dunno. If this does not become a goal, if all Twitter is is a meeting of the minds, without flesh, blood and tears, it feels like a bit of a waste. It may even be the cause for losing friends and connections! Does this defeat the purpose? Whatever the case, I’m quite convinced that I’m not really built for the Twittersphere — a world of disembodied instant communication. I’ve already ditched Facebook, maybe it’s time to escape the cyber sphere completely?

We shall see. But for now, I think its true that Twitter is not like the table and that means something.

Grace and peace, my friends.

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