John Mayer and John Piper: Twitter Case Studies

I’ve never read the tweets of John Mayer, but I suspect they are an improvement on the tweets of Kanye West. In any case, Mayer apparently tweeted a lot, in fact, he recently owned up to a case of Twitter addiction. At a Berklee Performance Center Clinic for aspiring musicians, he had this to say:

“The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still 4 minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still 4 minutes long…I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore. And I was a tweetaholic. I had four million twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using twitter as an outlet and I started using twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song.”

Mayer’s comments came to the attention of John Piper, a prominent Christian pastor with his own not insignificant Twitter following.  In a blog post, Piper offered his own experience as an alternative to Mayer’s:

My experience of publishing three Tweets a day (usually written and scheduled a week or two ahead of time) is different. Mayer said, “I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore.” To me this is almost the opposite of what happens. But that may depend on what we aim to do with Twitter.

Piper goes on to add, in what amounts to his philosophy of tweeting, that he aims to be capacious, concise, and compelling when he composes his tweets (preachers seem to have a hard time resisting alliteration). Along the way he likens tweets to proverbs and explains that, “Tweets for me are a kind of poetry.” This is all very nicely put, and I suspect it makes for pretty decent tweets.

Two users, admittedly two very different users, and two quite different experiences. Of course, there is nothing particularly surprising about this.  We shouldn’t necessarily expect any two users to have the same experience with any technology. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what might account for the difference, or if one were more typical.

We get a hint at what the difference might be when Piper writes, “My experience of publishing three Tweets a day (usually written and scheduled a week or two ahead of time) is different.”

That parenthetical statement suggests to me that Piper is not really tweeting. Obviously, he is composing words that are eventually shared via Twitter, but he is doing so in a manner that almost renders the platform irrelevant from the standpoint of personal experience. I would even bet that Piper is not the one interacting with the Twitter interface, in other words I wonder if he passes his composed tweets on to a third party who then types them in and publishes them. (There wouldn’t be a thing wrong with this, of course.) A quick look at Piper’s Twitter feed confirms the suspicion that his use of the interface is minimal since we find only the carefully composed statements and occasional links, but no interaction with other Twitter users. He has 185,000+ followers, and follows only 66. There are no @s0andso, no signs of conversation.

So let me suggest that Piper might as well be composing fortune cookie messages. Piper’s experience and habits are solidly in the world of old media. Piper’s thinking is not being influenced by Twitter because he is not using Twitter. In other words, Piper’s experience tells us nothing about the consequences of Twitter for someone who is actually robustly engaged with the interface, like John Mayer for example.

Piper’s closing paragraph further suggests that he is not exactly experiencing Twitter:

I don’t ask that others Tweet the way I try to. I only write this blog post to explain why I don’t experience Twitter the way John Mayer did, and why you don’t have to either. If your goal is to spread capaciousconcisecompelling truth about God and his ways, the Tweet is a fruitfully demanding form.

To describe a Tweet as a “fruitfully demanding form” is to view Twitter through the lens of the literary. Piper is measuring Twitter strictly in light of its verbal qualities, in the same way he might view a sonnet or a haiku. This a valid level of engagement and analysis, but has little to do with the way Twitter is experienced by most of its users. Moreover, it misses the significant points of contrast between print and digital media environments.

I hope it is clear that I’m certainly not criticizing Piper. My point is to understand the influence of technology, and I suspect that it is found in part in the habits formed by use of technology, or the practice of an interface. Piper has not experienced the effects of Twitter because he has not entered into the practice of Twitter defined as a robust and sustained engagement with the interface. I suspect that his Twitter account isn’t open on his desktop or smartphone. He probably is not emerged in the flow of TwitterTime. This is probably a good thing. By not really using the medium, he is not being used by it either. In any case, I would suggest that a tool’s influence will not really be felt until its use becomes a practice integrated into our form of life.


H/T: Mr. Greenwald for pointing me to Piper post.

One thought on “John Mayer and John Piper: Twitter Case Studies

  1. And I personally am not a fan of the fortune cookie tweets. (Great metaphor by the way!) So those who so tweet I soon no longer follow.

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