faith · life


Here is another post on my occasional looks into tweet world.

Anyone who follows this blog will know that despite a shaky start I have fallen in love with twitter. I now rarely use Facebook and I have enjoyed getting to know an increasingly wide community on Twitter. many of the people I follow are clergy, like myself – yet many are not, some are Christians, some are atheist all are fascinating, funny, compassionate and it has been a huge blessing to me to part of this online community.

But online community, as has been commented on by others, has it’s limitations. Electronic communication can be mis-interpreted, it can read in ways that it was not intended and in extreme cases can be twisted to infer something not intended by the author.

It is also something that occirs in the millisecond. By this I mean that we can often have typed something, sent it and received a reply before we have had chance to consider if our original message is a good idea, spelled correctly, or if indeed it makes any sense at all.

All this was brought home to me recently when I received this message out of the blue (identities hidden as I am not wanting to make a personal point here!):

I say this was out of the blue because it took me a considerable amount of time to work out what I had said. The sender of this message was someone I had followed for sometime, a fellow Christian and geocacher and although we hadn’t exchanged a large number of tweets I enjoyed being apart of their community.

But I was still perplexed because it had been sometime since I had tweeted at this individual and although it turns out I was following his wife on twitter, I didn’t actually know which username she was. Even after I worked this out I was still perplexed as I hadn’t tweeted at her either!

It transpired that my wife (@ratryn) had tweeted something at this gentleman’s wife and a combination of things occurred.

1) @ratryn’s tweet was missing a crucial comma that made a jovially-intended reply to a tweet seem a trifle rude and off-hand.

2) The recipient then received the message read it, and got upset.

3) Her husband, as all husbands should, leapt to her defence and blocked us both.

4) We both realising what had happened feel awful over a genuine typo and but are unable to contact them both to explain……

I wanted to share the interchange not to air some personal dispute but as an example of the limitations of our virtual communities.

If you or I and inadvertently offended someone in real-world community the hurt would be the same, but the resolution would be different. Ultimately in the real world we would be able to realise the offence caused and repair the damage to the relationship. But actually it goes deeper than that. If, for the sake of example all this had occurred in Church there is more than the dimension of repairing the relationship – because in real-world community we know each other in a deeper way than is possible online. In Church if such an exchange had taken place the hurt party would at some point stop to think about whether the perceived actions or words were intended – and would hold up those actions or words against what they already know of us as people. if the actions didn’t seem to make sense then they would consider perhaps what was meant and so on.

I guess what I am saying is that while online community has it’s benefits it is an isolated form of communication, there is no body-language to interpret, no voice indicators to listen out for and in the case of twitter – the chances are we don’t know them in any other sphere of our lives, so we have no form book of behaviour to refer to. Online we exist in a vacuum – I could tweet happy thoughts for months on end yet be in the depths of a sickening and debilitating depression in real life. The isolation of the online world means we have no idea what is going on at the other-end of the keyboard.

It is too easy to use the tools in online community sites to block people with whom we fall out, or disagree with. I know there are always dangerous folk who we need to block, but actually surely our first recourse in a dispute should be to seek to resolve it by understanding each others perspectives. In the online world we simply filter those folk out and as a result leave a trail of broken relationships. this is not good for any of the parties involved.

I love twitter, the interacting community there has enriched my life. But I enjoy it knowing its limitations.

I hope we can resolve this issue, because I don’t like to leave things in a bad place. But if not we may just have to pray and move on.


One thought on “tweet-tw(boo)hoo

  1. I feel your pain. I've been on both ends of similar situations. So often we forget that those reading cannot hear the tone of voice we have in our heads when we are writing.I am fortunate that in most cases those I had upset had the grace to allow me to apologise (and the grace to accept it). Generally that second step was possible because they knew me and recognised what I "said" as out of character.This is what is missing with Twitter and such like. Communication is put ahead of relationship and thus when we see something that may be out of character we have no external point of reference with which to make that judgement. We refer to connections as "friends" and "followers" when in the "real world" those are acquired over a much longer time.

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