Monday, October 26, 2009

Living with Intention Takes more than 140 Characters

I like to use Twitter. I tweet about what is going in my life, a funny joke, some political ranting and even about dumplings. But Twitter often is a bit over whelming and has some serious limitations. Outside of the brevity of the commentary, tweeting often leaves me feeling somewhat removed from what it is that I am either tweeting about or reading about via Twitter. It creates a disconnect between what is actually happening and figuring out how to truncate the story into short 140 character descriptions.

Recently I have been reading and hearing more about trying to live intentionally. Rabbi Josh Strom of New York discussed the difficulty of living “in the right now” during his Yom Kippur sermon:

It was a blistering hot afternoon in Manchester, Tennessee, the final day of the 8th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The What Stage … featured Grammy-winning soul and R&B artist Erykah Badu….Towards the end of her set, she spoke to the tens of thousands gathered on that Tennessee farmland. She looked out at the crowd and said, “Let’s just be here right now. No thinking about the past, no thinking bout the future. Just here. Just now.” And she concluded with the words, “I’m so glad to be with you, right here, right now.”

And I thought, “Yes!” I think I might’ve even shouted out something to the extent of, “That’s what I’m talking about!” This was something I’d been thinking about for quite a while. Over time, it had become sort of an unofficial thesis or mantra, if you will, something I knew I wanted to speak about for these High Holy Days. And here, standing in the overpowering sun of rural Tennessee, I shared a moment with Erykah Badu. Clearly, we were on the same wavelength.

I was so pumped, so fired up by this connection, this shared passion for trying earnestly to be here and now, that what did I do? I took out my Blackberry and wrote a little memo to myself, quoting Erykah so that I wouldn’t forget it. So moved, so jazzed up was I about being nowhere but in the moment, that I knocked myself right out of it with my electronic leash.

Yeah we all do it. I even live-tweeted the Dumpling Festival eating contest last weekend. It was a blast and I feel like nothing was lost on those who didn’t make it down to the festival but read about it via Twitter. The event, while supporting an important and complicated cause, was light in content. Shoving dumplings in one’s mouth really doesn’t necessitate in depth commentary.

This week JStreet is hosting its first national conference in Washington, D.C. This gathering of advocates and activists is a real accomplishment of the nascent pro-Israel, pro-Peace org and should be well documented by the press and those in attendence. However in the first few hours of this event, my Twitter feed and many of the blogs I read regularly were inundated with tweets and posts about every little detail of what was happening.

I asked, via Twitter of course, if anyone was actually attending the event to attend the event or were they only there to tweet about it. In this case, you really need that in depth commentary. You need to think about your answers and react carefully. I played into the problem and for that I apologize. But live-tweeting this event pulls you away from the seminar. It must make it harder to pay attention to the people speaking and nearly impossible to learn from them.

In an article in TechCrunch, Paul Carr wrote about a similar situation at a recent exclusive Weezer concert, sponsored by MySpace. He remarked that the "kids" and the MySpace invited dignitaries all were laden with smart phones, ready to document the event live and in real time. Here are the most important aspects of his piece:
…What were we all doing? Filming and tweeting and checking in rather than just putting our phones away and enjoying the gig. Why does the world need two thousand photos of the same band on the same stage, all taken from a slightly different angle? That kind of 360 degree imagery might have been useful on the day Kennedy was shot – not least because it would have kept Oliver Stone quiet – but for a Weezer gig? And what’s the point of checking in on Foursquare at a ticketed event that no one else can get into. You might as well tweet “I’m a dick” and be done with it.

And yet this real-time mentality – pictures/tweets or it didn’t happen – continues to seep into every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. Whereas once we might attend a conference to watch the speakers and perhaps learn something, today our priority is to live blog it – to ensure our followers know we’re on the inside; first with whatever news might be broken. And it’s not just journalists doing the live-blogging, but anyone with a laptop and a wifi connection.

So what happens when we tweet to prove existence? Will speakers be reduced to carefully crafting easily tweeted statement and killer sound bites? Will bands cut jam sessions so to provide the right length for direct upload to YouTube? I highly doubt Lincoln’s debates with Douglas could have been cut down to 140 character segments.

The existential tweeter is in for some troubled waters. If you tweet to prove it happened, then what is happening is diminished and therefore you are diminished. A vicious cycle really.

My mom, someone I respect deeply as an intellectual and communications expert, regularly says “ACH these people have too much time on their hands” when discussing a blogger or tweeter. In many cases I believe she is right. But perhaps the segmentation of time into 140 character tweets and witty blog posts (such as this one) actually cuts our time making it much shorter and less meaningful. (but not this blog post…please keep reading my blog.)

The real-time, right-now mentality makes it very hard to live intentionally. This isn’t anything revolutionary, but it struck me as strange today that so many advocates for Israel and peace when presented with such a rare opportunity to be taken seriously in a large group with real power in Washington, chose to tweet about it as opposed to action in the moment. The real power isn’t in the tweet, but in the people and the voice.

Social networking is great for great distances, but living intentionally is paramount to a political struggle, a great concert or even learning something from a blog post about living in the moment.

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