Friday, June 17, 2011

Twittering respectably

I've been catching up on some old friends' blogs - you can thank the weather for that, chaps! - and came across this post from Neil Winton just as I was pondering again (or anew, as the hymn hath it) the business of officialdom and social media. When I left the classroom - god, it's been six years - I could still look at flickr and some blogs on the school system, though Richard Holloway's work was largely taboo because, it seemed, he'd used naughty words. So NetGear said anyway.  Now, apparently, it is hard in schools to access any of the sites I've grown accustomed to using daily. Everyone and their grannies now know what Twitter is, but heaven forfend that our young should be able to use it.

Stupid logic, of course. I've been using Twitter since, November 2006. An earlyish adopter, then.  I've been blogging for a year or so longer. And I've been evangelical about the power of social media for most of the intervening years. But now I'm no longer involved in schools and education at large; my forum tends to be in church circles. So I've stood up at Synods both General and Diocesan and begged for blogs to be used to communicate and for Bishops to use Twitter. And back then - some 4/5 years ago -  I was scoffed at, either gently or violently. But gradually we saw bloggers doing their slightly risky thing on the sidelines of Synod, and then Twitter took over as comments were tweeted and shared live. Bishops blogged and had Facebook accounts. There were lunchtime meetings to help the uninitiated get over their fears (I'm talking General Synod here - all two and a half days of it) and, finally, official guidelines in the Synod papers for kind and responsible Tweeting. Social media had, on the face of it, arrived.

But we need to be careful here. There are still many, many people who have "no time" for Twitter and "all that stuff" - and that "no time" can be factual or pejorative in intent. And all too often they are the people who run organisations - because suddenly they see the huge potential for ... what? Anarchy? Revolution? Criticism?

Yes. Of course. All of these things. That's why repressive regimes block Facebook. I'm reminded, probably because of the context in which I now operate, of how the Bible used to be forbidden fruit to the common people, and then to women - much safer to keep it in Latin and in the hands of the priests, much more seemly for women to take their men's word for what was in this dangerous book. But hey - we all read the Bible now, if we feel so inclined, and we sometimes find new and exciting things in it, in our unschooled, lay fashion. And the job of the professionals is to help all of us to read sensibly, not to make basic errors in comprehension, to put it in a historical context and so on. The church as it is today, shrinking as it may be, seems to me a healthier and more alive organism for the active participation of its members.

And what, do you ask, has this to do with Twitter? Well, Twitter and other social media exist. People have become accustomed to using them to broadcast their status. Not all people are sensible, and some users of social media are downright silly - they're just people. But you can't stop them making fools of themselves, in public or not. You can assume that people at a gathering like Synod will, for the most part, have a modicum of intelligence and a large helping of goodwill - they wouldn't be there otherwise. I've already remarked on the lack of much tweeting during the last Synod - because someone, apparently, thought fit to warn them off at one point. I missed that bit, so I don't know how it was done. But for next year, I'd like to see a Twitter live backchat channel on the screens, so that everyone in the hall can see what's being said as it's said - and the people up front can have the chance to react to it.

Going back to the trigger for this post - the drive to have social media become normal in schools - I'm pushed into wondering if official blessing is in fact the one way to kill something off. I think our young might well tell us it is ...


  1. The someone was your new bishop.

    Though I love him very much, I fear he was not speaking about twitter from a place of great familiarity or knowledge.

  2. It's a matter of evolution. New technologies come in; some fly more than others; one adopts either early, with the masses (a bubble) or slightly late but still with enough time to make something of them - bearing in mind that that's Internet time now.
    A fear of "anarchy, revolution, criticism" may be present but is misplaced. Those three are vectors of change; one's organisation's genes may or may not survive generations, but a failure to interact at all with the environment guarantees only one outcome. So if I were you I'd be quite blunt in asking those who might use "no time" pejoratively how they expect any church to survive when it seeks to offer no relevance to the current generation[0].

    It's been interesting watching from the sidelines of social channels. Particularly, watching both the official "got-it-together" centralised CoS GA tweets, compared to the Pisky community-sourced/stifled approach. Both methods have their pros & cons, of course - I'm sure it should make for good discussion in the I&C Board. I wondered why mostly only one tweep appeared in my search column, and then I wondered what funny incense was being smoked to have put the dampers on tweeting, and for why; and I was glad of that which *had* made it beyond the social firewall, but think there could use being much greater coverage next year.

    [0] This rationale features highly in my recent decision to cease attempting to attend a particular church despite their lovely welcoming personalities. A hard line, possibly sad, but true.