Now that I've experienced a conference where I fully immersed myself in living the "twittering stream of religion," I want to again bring up the use of Twitter in religious gatherings.
What started my thinking for today is coming across another "Twitter and Church" discussion. The website Church Marketing Sucks posted a set of links to their recent entries on the use of Twitter (the micro-blogging service) you can explore:But the extent of Twitter is far more than church services.
Image via CrunchBase
More broadly, posts like this lead me to conclude that churches, denominations, seminaries, and para-church organizations have moved American religion decisively toward mainstreaming social media.
My experience with this at the Moltmann Conversation organized by Emergent Village is the first time I decided to dive into this Twitter stream full-force.
Conferences like the Moltmann Conversation I joined at Chicago and the earlier Earl Lectures conference at Berkeley encourage attenders to "tweet" through the sessions. Wi-Fi is available in the auditorium, and extra electrical "plugs"are spread throughout the room. This allows laptops and other portable devices like smartphones to sustain power. I used the "twubs" service found at "http://twubs.com/moltmann" and the "#" hashtag "#moltmann" available through my twitter feed.
The collective "tweets" are available to participants and displayed on a large, public screen at the front of the auditorium. Between my laptop, my phone and the screen up front, I was able to access tweets continuously. This added another dimension to capturing the mood and messages of the conference by letting participants reverberate quotes, observations, questions, insights, and online resources through a continuous live stream.
In my experience, Twitter primarily echoes significant statements made on the platform. I found the 250+ audience in Chicago to be aggressive listeners. When they hear a good statement, they capture it and reel it in with the zeal of a fly fisherman. Fellow "tweeters" will snatch that sentence -- keeping it to 140 characters -- and "tweet" it to the rest of the group. The more times the statement is posted, and the more it is RT'ed (return posted by others), the more collectively important the sentence appears to be. As the conference goes on, I read and follow others thoughts as we revisit significant statements, drawing them out of the steady flow of talk happening out front.
This forces the conference to take on an aphoristic quality. Sharp, witty statements are accentuated; paragraphs of thoughts are assumed. It's less a summary, and more an attempt to help hearers remember what happened.
In addition, people post short remarks and questions. Some will add a link that sends others to online ideas and sources. This gives a privileged view of the "mind" of other participants. What are they asking? What are they critiquing? What do they highlight? What do they ignore?
Also, some at the conference took a few pictures. Using the service "Twitpic", you can capture the view of the conference as taken by one of the participants. Here's a picture twittered from the Moltmann Conversation. Using all tweets together, we have the potential of creating a type of textual and visual archive for the event.
Because the Twitter feed is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, people unable to physically attend are able to vicariously experience some aspect of the conference by also catching the tweet-flow. While it is not a summary of the conference, those not there still derive at least some small benefit and an unusual privilege of overhearing some of the best "lines" from a very long conversation.
Finally, it's hard to ignore that "tweeting" conferences is a fascinating form of participatory marketing. Conference organizers know that while actively twittering adds value to participants and observers, it is also a benefit to the organizers to "spread the word" and broadcast the happenings of the conference in multiple directions through social networks. Thus, the power of social media to promote this and future events is realized in a distinctive way.
My experience at the conference helped me appreciate the extent to which organizers are deliberately adding "tweeting" to their events. So Twitter is interesting and important not only for worship and liturgy but also for the expansive experience of religion and collective experience.
I left considering this question: could the use of Twitter become as "normal" to Christianity as the use of hymnals?