Twitter made my mind smaller: John Mayer, social media, and expression

Posted Jul 22, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Lerone A. Martin


Kathryn Reklis raised some insightful questions in her recent post “Creatures of the Future.” In fact, Kathryn has sparked a much-needed conversation concerning how the transformations of social media have and will continue to alter the future of (among many things) human existence and religion in American life.

I will resist my temptation to engage in forecasting the future of social media, humanity, and religious life. However, I will kick off responses to Kathryn’s apropos questions regarding the contemporary social transformations of social media.

In addition to altering everyday practices, such as romance and religious devotion, other indicators of the effects social media is having upon our contemporary existence are readily visible; one might say the writing is on your wall.

Grammy award winning singer and songwriter John Mayer recently spoke to a group of adoring music students and confessed to the transformative assets and liabilities of social media in his own life and career. The multi-platinum artist lauded the promotion and visibility that social media such as Twitter affords artists and their expressions. However, Mayer (who has amassed some four million followers on Twitter) confessed that he began to increasingly view social media not just as a tool of self-promotion but also as a creative medium. Subsequently, he lamented that his routine self-inquiry of “Is this a good song title? Is this a good bridge?” morphed into questions such as, “Is this a good blog? Is this a good Tweet?” The music icon mourned that this change, thinking in Tweets, had an adverse effect upon his ability to narrate meaningful songs. He told the audience of future artists,
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 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. [emphasis mine]
Mayer’s reflections on his brain capacity are perhaps another hyperbole from a man who is no stranger to media faux pas. However, his warnings regarding the perils of the real-time and abbreviated parameters of social media are noteworthy.

Are we allowing our reliance and familiarity with social media to promote human expression while simultaneously cultivating the attenuation of the same?

What does such shortening of expression mean for religious leaders and communities that are bound together by narratives and the Power of Story, the ability of narratives and stories (longer than 140 characters) to form and transform persons and communities?

As people “of the Book,” are we instead cultivating a Tweet and sound bite religion as opposed to one of narrative and story?

Can Christians actually make sense and understand Moses’s Ten Tweets/Commandments without cultivating an engagement of the longer narrative of the Exodus Story? Are the red highlighted Tweets of Jesus properly understood apart from developing an understanding of the longer narrative of his life on the margins? Can Paul’s Prison Tweets be fully comprehended apart from the enrichment that comes from an investigation of the narratives, stories, and contexts that accompany each letter?

I echo John Mayer’s sentiments. I hope we are not morphing into religious leaders, religious communities, scholars, and (perhaps most importantly) human subjects that are being dulled into solely orientating ourselves and our religious expressions to the governance and parameters of sound bites and Tweets.

Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Rebecca Littlejohn 31 Jan
    I think we are way more susceptible to this than we realize. When I spent time in Germany, I was mostly speaking English with non-native English speakers. I started to notice that my own English, in communications to folks back home, was taking on the short-sentence, simple verb qualities of the spoken English of my non-native English-speaking German friends. It was a little creepy.

    So yes, our brains are very vulnerable to shrinking to fit our habits. Clearly, the church needs to be able to speak Tweet, but we also need to be a place where other capacities are cultivated.

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