Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Christian and Twitter: Narcissism?

As much as I hate to wade into this (I wish I had more time), I think it might be an important larger discussion about the virtues and vices of technology.

I'm going to try to limit my comments to my own opinions as an individual Christian. I don't purport to speak for all Christians, particularly because these matters involve new technologies and somewhat novel circumstances. As I explained to my son after watching the movie Valkyrie, I have more access to and transmission power of information in the phone on my hip than most humans have experienced in human history.

Over at Between Two Worlds I read, was sent and then commented on a post affirming Twitter as a cause and vehicle for narcissism. The post also equates social networking more generally with narcissism and nihilism.

As I commented there: Twitter as a technology, is no more or less narcissistic than the printing press. One must have a certain sense of confidence to publish any opinion widely. Is this narcissism or the necessary self-confidence to assert an opinion? If it's narcissism, then all who publish, via press, blog or Twitter are narcissists.

Who is a bigger "narcissist" than Luther? How dare he publish his private opinions to rival the Magisterium! This is an old criticism of Protestantism; not of it's content but of it's temerity.

Or how about Augustine's Confession. Isn't it like unto a giant tweet of personal feelings and experience. Does anyone really care that Augustine was a thief in his youth? Apparently, yes, his "narcissism" notwithstanding.

The medium certainly affects the message but the medium is only as self-centered or self-expressive as the messenger. Twitter is more indicative of culture than prescriptive. If Twitter actually is narcissistic, it is because those who use it already are. But blogging (long form tweeting) fear, loathing, and high-handedness about new technology sells more books and blog ads than blogging about the balance between narcissism and self expression in general, which is as old as Job's laments.

Twitter being simply a tool for communication cannot be narcissistic per se. It's ironic that Christians struggle to see the link between communications innovations of today and key elements of Christian history. I already mentioned the printing press, not to mention the written word in general. You'd think Christians would vilify the telephone more than Twitter since we value the written word. I'm sad to say that when the telephone was invented and first widely used there were probably Christians who decried the vanity of the spoken word and it's effect on society. Imagine:
"What are all those people talking about? Their hair? Their pets? What they had for breakfast? Rubbish! What narcissists!"
Sound familiar?

When your Mom calls and asks what's been going on today, do you stop and think: I don't want to be a narcissist so I better not say anything. Of course not. You disclose your life to people who care.

If you only heard one side of my phone calls you might assume I'm a narcissist because I'm always talking. But your assumption ignores the person on the other end. If you think my tweets are narcissistic, then why do you follow me? How can it be narcissistic if you have to choose to listen in. If you care enough to choose to listen, then it can't be all about me.

I'm on Twitter to stay connected to my office mates when we are out of the office. If you think that is a shallow substitute for real intimacy, watch this and stop talking to your friends on the phone; only talk to them in person so you won't be shallow.

I also get instant updates from the Boston Police while I work downtown. And, at times, I listen to real time conversation about real time events using things like Twitterfall and Twitter Search. For example, right now I'm "listening" to the Swine Flu story break across the globe. I just checked CNN on the web at 12:55 AM and there's a small mention of the flue at the bottom under World headlines. I'll bet it will be a bigger story by noon.

It's ironic that I've spent this much time writing about whether Twitter is narcissistic and I primarily use it to listen. You get the picture.

I'm hoping my next post will be - A Christian and Twitter: Brevity?


Derrick Jeror said...

Thanks for the post. You're on the right track!

scottcrocker said...

Good word, Ryan. I've been thinking about writing on this topic for awhile and now you've motivated me. Thanks from one narcissist to another. :)

steve said...


Don't you realize that before the advent of Twitter, most folks used to spend their leisure time reading Russian novels? :-)

Anonymous said...

The ability of Christians to justify their own selfish nonsense and congratulate themselves for every petty effort they make is breathtaking.

Ryan said...

"The value of any opinion is automatically devalued by an individual’s unwillingness to attach his name to it. Attacking individuals and attempting to get a rise or start something under a false name is low. Anyone who blogs is subjected to it sooner or later, if not regularly. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of it, from commenters to lefty bloggers and even some rightward ones, some of it vile and personal, some of it sticking to the issues if not always accurate in its representations. No one likes to be attacked, but I always consider the source: Nobody. Some gutless wonder with a fake, usually self-aggrandizing name and a keyboard."


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