What if Elon Musk had gone ahead and killed Twitter?
Trying to remember the (happier, holier) world before the social media giant
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If someone were to say to you, “There’s a place you can go where you will for sure leave feeling bad about yourself and about the world, and where you’ll probably get into a fight,” you would no doubt reply, “I’d rather not go there.” Any sane person would.
In a more nuanced way, if the same person were to say to you, “If you go there you’ll be tempted to overweening pride, self-obsession, and the ability to take literally everything—from baseball to Thanksgiving to Covid-19—and make it all about yourself,” again, if you have any kind of a moral/ethical compass, you’d probably take a hard pass. I would encourage my wife, my sons, and anyone else I care about to steer clear of such a place.
And yet, that place does exist (it’s Twitter), and nearly every pastor/author/husband/father type I know logs a ton of minutes and hours on it each day. It’s honestly one of the weirder observable things about evangelical Christianity circa the last decade. I can’t think of any other sphere of life in which it is basically a given that a thing will tempt a person to sin, and about which thing Christians, en masse, are saying, “Yes, please sign me up for this! And moreover, I’d love to spend a TON of my time there!”
Now, the time is justified as 1) ministry (nah, not buying it), 2) book promotion (doesn’t work, nobody cares), 3) keeping in touch with people (again, nah, there are better ways), and 4) naked self-aggrandizement and empire building (wait, nobody is that honest about it).
So I watched with interest when for about twelve hours it seemed like Elon Musk might have purchased Twitter just to pull the plug on it completely. I rooted for this in the same way I keep an eye on baseball scores for my favorite team. I didn’t want to invest too much energy in it because, let’s be honest, it was a longshot, and would have been perhaps the most expensive performance art piece in recorded human history.
But still, it would have been cool.
This is a good time to confess/admit that I’ve been off social media for about a dozen years because it gave rise to some of the worst aspects of my character and nearly wrecked my life/marriage. To be clear, I was the one nearly wrecking my life with my own sin. Social media just made it easier to obsess about myself, be competitive with everyone else, and seek my wellbeing/meaning in the praise and affection of the wrong people. It was awful. I’m not a participant now because I can’t be a participant without sinning.
That said, some of the podcasts and projects I’m involved with have Twitter accounts, and I now sort of hate it by proxy because I see how it is re-wiring the brains and priorities of people I love.
Because of social media I’m now just aware of more people than I need to be aware of. In 1992 I knew my pastor and about a dozen people at my church very well. I had the handful of peripheral friendships that everyone had back then. All of those people had living room hot takes that they uttered largely in private and had the good sense not to publish anyplace that mattered.
Today, I can name the Famous Pastor starting lineup (with backups), and all of their attendant (inevitable?) podcasts. I knew exactly when the Reformed world was falling in love with Timothy Keller, when it started “having concerns” (so fun for Reformed guys!), and when it fell out of love with him completely. I knew exactly when Joshua Harris chucked his faith, and I viewed the “look at this beautiful lake and also my shoulders” pic that accompanied the overwritten and super sad announcement. Last year I had roughly 400 guys ask me when I was going to start listening to the podcast about Driscoll (answer: never).
In 1992 I wouldn’t have known about any of those things, and my life would not have been worse for it.
I’m not naïve enough to think that even if Elon had pulled the plug, that a similar product wouldn’t have immediately hit the market—I mean, we already have Insta, Tik Tok, Facebook, and (heh) Be Real to give rise to our most narcissistic impulses. Killing Twitter would have barely made a ripple.
Still, I wish we could travel back in time and see what our lives, and pastoral ministry, looked like without it. Despite our best efforts to curate a beautiful life online, I bet it looked a lot more attractive back then.
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