Yesterday, Twitter announced that it had made every tweet publicly available through a searchable index. After eight years, now a hundred billion tweets are ready for your viewing, 140 characters at a time. Everything from
just setting up my twttr
— Jack (@jack) March 21, 2006
all the way past
Make it rain breakfast burritos — KATY PERRY (@katyperry) April 22, 2014
Truly, the pinnacle of our civilization’s literature.
But why is Twitter still popular? After some quick shifts in social media popularity in the early- to mid-2000s, Facebook and Twitter have staked a claim as the Queen and King of social media. Facebook’s popularity may seem obvious – though that’s a discussion for a different post – but Twitter seems, on its face, to be bizarre. Far simpler than any of its competitors, but despite (or perhaps because of) that, it’s earned a lasting place in our national narrative. How does that happen? And how can we redeem it?
We’re a sound-bite culture
Even before social media, news reports and attention spans have been getting shorter. Academic papers and op-ed pieces abound about this phenomenon, but the bottom line is we’re an easily distracted culture and we prefer sound bites. As our culture increasingly responds to “clickbait” headlines that pack as much meaning as possible into as short a headline as can still be comprehensible, journalists and marketers alike are replacing long blocks of text with top ten lists and information in easily digestible chunks.
It’s interesting that modern media is only just beginning to discover the power of short, easily scanned bursts of information; the Bible has been separated into verses of approximately Tweet-length (average number of letters per verse is around 120) since the 16th Century. Verses are easier to look up, read, understand, memorize, and repeat than long chapters of information, and though verse numbers only appeared in the Bible in the 1500s, the actual text of the Bible has been easy to divide into short “sound bites” since it was first inspired by God.
Think about the famous John 3:16; in the ESV, it comprises 124 characters. Perfect tweet length. Romans 8:2-3 is slightly longer than a tweet in the ESV, clocking in at 165 characters. Genesis 50:20 is 141 characters; you could tweet it if you left out the final period. The point is, God has known what Twitter and BuzzFeed have only recently figured out: we understand better in shorter chunks of information, and He inspired his word to be written that way. Taken as a whole, the Bible is God’s beautiful story, but don’t miss the trees for the forest; His wisdom is packed into every word that He spoke.
We like the melting pot.
When Oprah joined Twitter, her “shout” was noticed by none other than Shaq, who helpfully informed her that her caps lock was on. When rap superstar Drake bemoaned how difficult it is to earn his millions, octogenarian and natural gas billionaire T. Boone Pickens poked fun at him with a note that the road didn’t get any easier for the next 999. As noted above, TV spaceman William Shatner and real life spaceman Chris Hadfield had a witty exchange while the latter was in space. In all of these cases, their followers ate up the interactions with gusto. When people from vastly different walks of life collide in the melting pot of Twitter, people love it.
This is no minor issue, and it really underscores the truth that God intends us to know about His creation: that we’re all created to enjoy Him equally. God didn’t make some people to come before Him as superstars and others as nobodies. The Bible even notes that people came from all different walks of life in the early Church, and the trend continues to this day.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
In our hearts, we all want to be heard
Nobody wants to be ignored. Whether the tweet is “here’s what I’m doing right now,” “take a look at my food,” or a grand philosophical treatise in 140 characters, every tweet carries with it at least some small cry for attention. We all want to be heard and understood, and we’re all dedicated to finding someone out there who will accept us as we are.
This isn’t news, or at least I hope it isn’t. The entirety of social media is a great big shout of “PLEASE LOOK AT ME!”, and we are all soothed when the likes and retweets start rolling in. Social media silences the loneliness, at least for a while.
We see the psalmist, David, as he praises God that his loneliness has abated in Psalm 139. In relief he cries out,
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
Despite the evil that David has done, God has not left his side. And any prayers you speak will reach the God who is pleased to be present with you forever. There is nowhere you can go to escape His love.
Every tweet can remind us of the truth in our hearts. God’s wisdom is packed into every word that He spoke: every word that shouts out our desire to enjoy God with everyone, and the love and companionship that He will forever provide his people. Let’s get the word out: Twitter is another opportunity to @RedeeemCulture.
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(By the way, if you follow @RedeeemCulture on Twitter, you’ll see what we post without needing to search through the index. Thanks!)
Curious about the origins of Twitter? Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal and many other books are available to read right now on Amazon.com, and buying them through the referral link helps out Redeeming Culture at no additional cost to you. Thank you!