by Michael Russell @FrMike
We are hearing a lot of high level discussion about the need to restructure the Church to make it more nimble in the emerging world around us. This week a lively discussion erupted among Deputies and their representatives on the Executive Council (EC) about a bit of communications restructuring that occurred without any high level discussion. Several EC members “tweeted” from the EC (#ECMtg) during the course of their meeting. The discussion of whether or not that was appropriate broadened out into a discussion about openness in meetings, live communications from them and then live communications from General Convention. At the moment it has all gone into mill and we have no clue quite how it might grind out.
In the midst of all that a curiosity arose about Tweeting and Twitter and I offered some clarifying input and was asked to repeat it here at Daily Episcopalian. For those of you who are not yet Tweeps here is a short course on why it is emerging as an important avenue of communication.
Think of tweets as a form of mass distribution of text messages. They are 140 characters long because that is the length of phone text messages. If you are not yet texting on your cell phone, learning to do that would be a good first step. If you are, then you are almost to the twitterdise.
Tweets instead of going to just one person go to many. When you set up a Twitter account you choose how many people or organizations you will get Tweets from automatically. This is called following. In turn, people who follow you get all your tweets. People you follow have all their tweets appear in your main window. So you can follow Episcopal News Service, Episcopal Café, and the One Campaign, really any of a zillion people or organizations out there. You will get news from them as they write it. They, or your circle of Tweep friends, can then follow you.
But you can also get tweets to people who are not following you. That is accomplished with the @ sign in front of a username. I am @FrMike which means that if you put that in any tweet you send anywhere, even if I am not following you, I will get it. If you want to send a message to the official Episcopal Church site you would type in @iamepiscopalian. If you want to see what their twitter stream looks like pop over to twitter.com/iamepiscopalian In all of the Twitter programs there is a search box and you can type just about anything into it and find a list of @ addresses.
There is a second way of getting messages out and looking for things to read. In this mode you are following ideas or discussions based on their subject. To look at a topic you use what is called a “hashtag” “#” put in front of a subject. #GC12 will get you to a discussion of General Convention 2012 and if you type a tweet with #GC12 in a message then everyone who looks at this discussion will see your comment. To find nearly any subject in the world you just type it into search and it will give you ideas of #’s to look at. Unlike following people # discussions will not automatically flow into your time stream (and if that can be done I do not yet know how!) I just keep them in my list of favorites and drop in to see what is going on.
All that said, what the heck use is Twitter? It is, in my opinion, an incredible tool for receiving real-time reports on things you care about. Last year when the Egyptian Spring occurred I would check in on #tahirsquare or #jan25 and there was an ongoing, immediate and unfiltered account of what was happening right there! When the English General Synod was meeting to discuss women bishops I followed their hashtag #GenSynod and followed the debate in real time. Last week I was one of about 150 people invited to the White House’s Executive Office Building to live tweet the President’s State of the Union address #SOTU. People from all over tuned in to #SOTU or #WHCHAT or #WHTweetup and received the stream of tweets from us tweeporters. During that hour’s speech more than 760,000 tweets occurred around the country.
Imagine everyone Anglican in the world having the capability of following, as they happen, the deliberations of the House of Deputies or “shiver” the House of Bishops. Imagine that you could follow the debate on the Anglican Covenant, Same Sex Blessings, the Budget Committee hearings, or any of the hundreds of hearings that will take place in real time. But even better, imagine that you can contribute in real time to the conversation with Deputies or Bishops sharing your insights as they streamed across their screen. Best of all this vast sea of communication will not cost TEC one thin dime.
I would suggest too that Deputies and Bishops can be twitterspondents without actually being distracted from business. GC does not move fast, nor do its hearings, so reporting as we listen is not that serious a challenge or disruption.
Tweeps-to-be out there, you have plenty of time to sign up for a free account and play with it some before July arrives. And then @FrMike and other deputies, I am sure, will be ready to keep our meetings open for your edification and if you choose, participation.
Technology has moved rapidly enough that I believe without any expense to the TEC budget we might also offer some live streaming of hearings or deliberations using iPads and streaming applications like UStream. As long as I have a signal and the bandwidth I can put live images on my UStream channel. Our capacity to have an open General Convention is now spectacular, so take the plunge!
Ideas for hash tags for #GC2012
#Nat&IntCon. (my committee, I am on one after all)
The Rev. Michael Russell is rector of All Souls', Point Loma, in the Diocese of San Diego. He is the author of Hooker's Blueprint: An Essence Outline of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, is a third time Deputy to General Convention, early adopter of technologies and blogs at Anglican Minimalist.