Why Twitter Matters

I avoided Twitter. I set up an account about a year and a half ago (@rev_david), but it largely sat their unused. I didn't see the point. It seemed like a waste of time. I couldn't see the personal or professional benefits of learning my way around Twitter. Sure, I used Facebook extensively. I blogged. I was not opposed to social media. I just didn't see the benefit of this particular form of social media.

About a month ago, I thought I would dive in.  I connected with some people. I had some good dialog with new people and with old friends. As a theological, homiletic exercise, I tweeted as Judas.

And then came Wednesday, April 25. It was in a flash on my Twitter feed, which I keep up while working in my office, that I saw the news of tornadoes in Alabama. Tornadoes headed for Chattanooga, my hometown, and the current home of family members and friends.

So I searched. Who was tweeting from Chattanooga? From North Georgia? I contacted my parents, to check and see if they were okay. They were without power, riding out the storms. Sitting at my desk in Brenham, Texas, I had better information about what was happening in and around Chattanooga than they did at times. Through Twitter, I knew exactly when and where the tornadoes where appearing in the Chattanooga area. All of a sudden, Twitter didn't seem like a waste of time.

And then came tonight, Sunday, May 1. Relaxing after getting home late from a very long Sunday, I was talking with recently met colleagues about "low Sunday," the first Sunday after Easter. Just about ready to call it a night. And then, a tweet: "President to have a press conference at 10:30 pm." People began to speculate. This was sudden. This was late at night. What could it be?

Many guesses. Then, a few rumors. Then a flood. "POTUS Press Conference national security related." "Related to Bin Laden." "Reliable sources say Bin Laden is dead."

I turned on my TV. Nothing. The Apprentice was still on NBC. The news channels said it was a security related press conference. That was all. And then, some fifteen to twenty minutes later, "Confirmed: Osama Bin Laden dead."

Ok, it was fifteen to twenty minutes that the news was out on Twitter before in the media. That may not seem like much. But the fact is, this was reliable information, spread by the people, directly to the people; without filter. And all of a sudden, Twitter didn't seem like a waste of time.

Yes, you can still waste time on Twitter. Yes, there is a great deal of inane content on Twitter, and even more unreliable information disseminated through Twitter. Like any crowd-sourced information source, Twitter has its flaws. And yet, at times it works. And when it works, we get a glimpse of what social media is designed to do.

Many thoughts running through my mind tonight, waiting for the press conference to begin. But among them is this: Twitter does not seem like a waste of time tonight.