Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Twitter in Shul, please

I read this article in Time a week ago and was a bit weirded out:

Voelz and David McDonald, the other senior pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Mich., spent two weeks educating their congregation about Twitter, the microblogging site that challenges users to communicate in 140 characters or less. They held training sessions in which congregants brought in their laptops, iPhones and BlackBerrys. They upped the bandwidth in the auditorium.

As expected, banter flourished. Tweets like "Nice shirt JVo" and "So glad they are doing Lenny Kravitz" flashed across three large video screens. But there was heartfelt stuff too.

"I have a hard time recognizing God in the middle of everything."

"The more I press in to Him, the more He presses me out to be useful"

"sometimes healing is painful"

There's a time and place for technology, and most houses of worship still say it's not at morning Mass. But instead of reminding worshippers to silence their cell phones, a small but growing number of churches across the country are following Voelz's lead and encouraging people to integrate text-messaging into their relationship with God.

In Seattle, Mars Hill churchgoers regularly tweet throughout the service. In New York City, Trinity Church marked Good Friday by tweeting the Passion play, detailing the stages of Jesus' crucifixion in short bursts. At Next Level Church, outside Charlotte, N.C., it's not only O.K. to fuse social-networking technology with prayer; it's desirable.

If this is working for people, Mazel Tov. Personally I think it's weird as hell.

At first I was going to write a semi-smug victory post about how at least the Jews aren't doing weird crap like this. Unfortunately, Google had to go and ruin it:

The Reason your Church/Synagoguge Must Twitter

Using Twitter to Broadcast Synagogue Services
(token mention)

Why is your Synagogue Using Twitter?

This last link has an insightful comment:

Churches and non-profits have cottoned on to Twitter a while ago, but it’s been moving much slower and with more contention in the Jewish sphere.

One reason mentioned in another article is the issue about Sabbath observance, but here are a few of my decidedly non-Ortho thoughts. But to start, a disclosure: I have never used Twitter, therefore I may not know what I'm talking about. Actual Twitter users please feel free to post a comment and share your thoughts.

First, on the technology front, I tend to be proudly behind the curve. I have little interest in high-tech toys, and not just because I'm cheap/poor, but also because many seem highly unecessary. I tend to purchase electronics as I need them, not as they become available. I have continued to resist getting a smart phone and the idea of bringing a laptop into a synagogue strikes me as downright silly.

[Brief Aside: Regarding smart phones-- the reason I don't have one is because I don't WANT to have access to technology 24/7. The Verizon guy actually seemed annoyed when I went to upgrade my phone and told him I didn't want a data plan. "Really? Because you can use it to check traffic, bus times, restaurants, weather..."

"That's fantastic. But what I really want to do with it is make phone calls, and possibly send some text messages."

He looked at me like I had just peed on his leg.]

Second, since I have gotten a texting option on my phone, I have gotten further confirmation that I am a wordy little bastard (as if this blog wasn't evidence enough), so I don't think that Twitter would be a very useful program for me to attempt to use.

Third, when I go to shul, I try to stay focused on what's actually happening-- of course I kibbitz a little, but my goal is to keep that to a relative minimum. I'm not explicitly there to chat with people-- certainly not random strangers-- and have zero desire to beam my inner thoughts onto a giant screen in the middle of the sanctuary.

I think this rubs me the wrong way-- and potentially other folks as well-- because no matter how you slice it, I still see Twitter as ultimately being either a distraction (what is someone else saying?) or a exhibition (look at me! read me! I have an opinion!) In the same way I hope I never blog from shul, I have zero desire to tweet from it either. In addition to being rude, it doesn't seem like it would be a productive way to get something out of a service.

Perhaps one reason it is more popular among Christians (the Time article only mentions Protestant churches) is because they are using them in less formalized services, during extensive sermons or prayer sessions. Comparing an evangelical Sunday to a Shabbat service, there is simply less "down time" in which you would be able to Tweet coherently about a topic. Furthermore, given that there are prescribed prayers that you are supposed to be getting through, Twitter seems like it would be distracting you, and possibly preventing others, from concentrating on the task at hand. (Ditto for more formalized Christian denominations, such as Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox.) Try as I might, I can't see Twitter being useful during davening, and while I admit there is (porentially) more intellectual leisure time during High Holidays, it seems more apt to be distracting than productive, at least not without a lot of prep work by the shul.

None of this is to say that Twitter can't be a good tool for shul or community organizing or networking. But I don't think it's going to be all that popular in actual services. Nor, frankly, do I think it should be.

Edit: A Gray area?


Monique said...

I totally get what you’re saying about turning the focus of a service toward a hand-held device versus what the guy at the front of the room is saying. I tweet frequently, but I find it can be distracting in public too.

But that doesn’t mean Twitter is without its uses (check out 30 Ideas on How Congregations Can Use Twitter
I think it may take time for people to experiment and figure out what the uses are, but the key is to be OPEN. I can recall similar discussions about if synagogues should have websites or if synagogues should have blogs. Yes, and yes. I’d argue that using any tool that helps you reach out to a larger population, and get more people interested in and involved in shul is a good thing, especially given since so many congregations have dwindling memberships.

Check out @synagogue to see how some synagogues are using Twitter to communicate.

Rivster said...

I LOVE Twitter and our shul definitely has a Twitter presence. However, I agree that it is just not Shabbosdic to be tweeting during services. Also, one cannot be fully present and internalize the liturgy and message of the sermon if one is trying to encapsulate it in 140 characters or less.

Plus, being at shul is about relationships IRL!!!