Tweeting under the influence

By Phyllis Strupp
Posted Jan 12, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] At a recent conference of training professionals, a speaker on social networking asked the audience how many were on Twitter. Few hands went up, a surprising response since the average age of participants was well under 40. The speaker went on to explain why they should be on Twitter. Yes, he agreed, Twitter can be a time-waster, but it allows you to be in the know about important world events as well as the thoughts of clients, co-workers, competitors, and potential employers. Based on the chit chat afterwards, he didn’t seem to make many converts. Twitter is a tough sell to busy people trying to meet daily demands at work and home. A major benefit of Twitter is the ability to communicate with others immediately—but first you must learn the language.

When you sign up for a free account, you provide a few words about yourself so others can get a sense of who you are and where your interests lie. If they like what you say, they can decide to follow you. You can also become the follower of those who write things you like. Someone who posts a comment no longer than 140 characters (tweet) on Twitter becomes a “tweeter.” You can be a Twitter voyeur, following others while never tweeting your own words. The several hundred million people involved with Twitter are called “tweeple.”

In 2011, Twitter and other social networking media had a profound impact on the world; the events of the Arab spring are a notable example. But one linguistic casualty of Twitter is associating the word “follow” with a keystroke. How easy it is, to follow strangers from around the corner or around the world who say things you like, for no cost other than a few minutes of your time.

In ancient times, the concept of following packed a much greater punch. The earliest hunter-gather members of the human species followed prey and spread throughout the world. Some ten thousand years ago, our ancestors followed the movements of the stars, enabling the prediction of seasons and the advent of agriculture and modern civilization.

Interest in following the stars remained strong, yielding astrology (Greek for ‘account of the stars’) some 5,000 years ago, considered to be a search for meaning in the sky. A central principle of astrology is integration within the cosmos. The individual, earth, and the environment are viewed as a single organism, all parts of which are correlated with each other.

The English word “influence” from the Latin “to flow into” comes from the ancient astrological concept that an invisible force emanated from the stars and affected human events, a notion underlying the zodiac and horoscope followed by many today. Astrology was a highly regarded scholarly tradition until modern science absorbed it under the label “astronomy” many centuries ago. So when the three wise men followed the star, this was a much more logical thing to do two thousand years ago than it is today.

This is the world that Jesus was born into, yet the Bible doesn’t have much to say about Jesus consulting the stars or checking out his horoscope. And when Jesus asked someone to follow him, there was eye contact, flesh and blood, and charisma—dynamic star power that emanated from the kingdom of heaven within him and all of us, according to Luke 17:20-21:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.'”

Whether through stars, zodiac animals, or tweeters from around the world, the human mind doggedly looks for meaning and power in the outer world, while neglecting the even greater source of meaning and power within. Through our high-powered brains, we are uniquely equipped to feel God’s influence—the good within us that we can share with the Creation in thought, word and deed. Our evolving brains perceive our own inner goodness more easily through the minds of others. However, “who do you say that I am?” yields a more realistic answer in person than in cyberspace.

Jesus could have easily tweeted “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people,” as this phrase has only 53 characters. But I’m not sure he would have used Twitter as a recruiting tool even if available in his times. He was looking for the kind of followers that could become disciples, models of a new way of life. To follow someone on Twitter is but a keystroke, rather than a response to God’s tugs on our heartstrings with commitment and action.

– Phyllis Strupp is the author of Church Publishing’s Faith and Nature curriculum and the author of The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert.