by John Piper
I began tweeting in 2009, and explained why in a blog post. Now, two years into it, do I think it’s a good idea?
Let me answer that by responding to a confession by musician, singer-songwriter, John Mayer. A few weeks ago at Berklee College of Music he confessed his debilitating addiction to Twitter.
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.
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.
Two aims drive my writing of Tweets: One is theological and the other is aesthetic. I aim to say important theological things. And I aim to say them in a compelling way. Whether I succeed is not mine to judge.
This means that Tweets do not diminish my ability to have a complete thought, they demand it. That’s what a Tweet is—a thought that is complete enough to press some God-focused truth into someone’s consciousness.
This kind of tweeting does not distract from thinking. It demands thinking. A peculiar kind of thinking—thinking that is capacious, concise, and compelling.
The aim is to pack much into little. Big into small. Great into ordinary. Truth into language. God into space and time.
If I did not know a great God and a great Savior and a great Life and a great Plan, I would not bother writing Tweets—or books. But if God can be spoken of meaningfully in a 300 page book, he can also be spoken of in a 30-minute sermon, and a three line Tweet. All efforts to speak of the Infinite make our little differences between long and short irrelevant.
The constraint of 125 characters (I always leave 15 free for retweeting) is wonderful. It forces conciseness. It is a very fruitful discipline. It requires a good deal of thought to make it work. It brings out some surprisingly creative ways of saying what needs to be said.
Tweeting is to preaching what the book of Proverbs is to the book of Romans. It’s the difference between epigram and argument. In fact, if you need a biblical warrant for the literary form suitable for Tweeting it is the book of Proverbs.
The epigrammatic, aphoristic form has always been revered, not despised. It is a demanding form, not a lazy one. Long does not equal hard, and short easy. Long may be easy and short hard. It’s easy to strew the jigsaw pieces all over the floor; it’s hard to make them fit into a puzzle picture on the table. Concise is a worthy goal, and demands the effort of thought.
The aim is not just to be capacious and concise but also attractive, winsome, provocative, pleasing to the ear and eye and mind and heart.
Tweets for me are a kind of poetry. I make no claim to be good at it. But that’s the way I think about it. I want it to sound and look good. I will never use 2 for to. Or Shd for should. Why? It’s not a telegram. It’s a poem.
I love words. I rarely think of them as efficient, but as precious. God made them to carry the freight of truth and beauty. Nothing is more valuable than God’s truth and beauty.
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 capacious, concise, compelling truth about God and his ways, the Tweet is a fruitfully demanding form.