An Online Identity Crisis of Sorts

Posted by on Mar 27, 2009


A few weeks ago I took my life into my own hands and faced certain ruin and potential eternal consequences.  I sent a tweet from church.

My wife had to leave service to take care of our young son, and I was left to my own devices.  Quite literally.  I decided to try an experiment and extracted my iPhone from my coat pocket.  I began innocently enough by using the Bible program I have loaded for reference, and then the forbidden fruit dangled enticingly in front of my eyes.  I thought twice, twitched slightly, opened TwitterFon, and sent out this nugget of wisdom.


Inspiring, I know.

Coincidentally, almost immediately after I sent the tweet, I remembered that I have Evernote on my iPhone.  I used the application for the rest of the service to take notes, and I am quite convinced this is something worth continuing in the future.  In fact, I’m going to be writing a guest post on our church’s blog about using technology in service in the near future as a result of the experiment.  I’m sure it’s going to touch off a great conversation with those in our congregation who are a bit, how should I say it, traditional?

I also later confessed my sin to my wife, and a fascinating conversation ensued.  Much of it was centered around recent discussions regarding how presenting to an audience who is Twittering or backchanneling changes the presentation dynamics for a speaker.  This conversation likely merits its own post at some point in the future as well.

But the most telling outcome of this experience didn’t come from my digital note taking in church or the discussion with my wife.  It came a few hours later when I got home and checked my Twitter feed.  The responses to my tweet in church were both entertaining and intriguing.  It was this tweet that really got me thinking.


I wondered what would happen if I did actually start sending out updates from my church’s service.  Would people who know me on Twitter for my educational focus want to hear me talk about my faith?  I then sent out this question.


The responses ranged from unequivocally “I would unfollow you” to “I think you should do it as I prefer people to be all of who they are on Twitter.”  It was quite a range, and it was quite interesting to ponder exactly who we’ve let ourselves become in the social networks in which we run.  Perhaps even, who do we want ourselves to become?

I think of the growth of many online social networks and what this means for the community.  I’ve noticed as Twitter increases in popularity, I have more friends and acquaintances outside of education following me.  I’ve also had our local newspaper, businesses, and past professors add their name to my list.  It begets the question, “what do we do with this?”  I have to wonder if my friends really care about my thoughts on Marzano and his recent research on interactive whiteboards.  Do they care I don’t care for the overused and abused 21st Century nomenclature?  Do they care that I persistently pester one particular Canadian?

This question isn’t restricted to only Twitter.  It applies to all social networks.  What do you do when your mom wants to be your friend on Facebook?  Or your students?  It makes me wonder if we have to start setting up multiple accounts for all our networks.  There have been suggestions that it would be better to have a separate “professional” Twitter account and a “personal” Twitter account.  Would the bifurcation of my life result in a dilution of my personality in both spaces?

Personally, I like some of the inane chatter that happens on Twitter.  I like knowing when Dean spills on his shirt, or what Jon is cooking for dinner, or when Jen is engaged in an epic battle to get Z to bed.  It’s the sum of the small things in our lives that make up the whole of who we are.  I also know, however, that it’s tough to sift through all the chatter at times.  I’ve heard that complaint from several people as of late, and it makes me wonder about the merit of having two accounts.

I’m really not sure where to go from here.  I know this process will likely work itself out in an organic manner as these things tend to do with emerging technologies, but what will that process yield for us at its conclusion?

To end, I’ll have to go back to the beginning, and ask a question.  If I started letting more of my life into Twitter, would you stop following me?


After posting this yesterday, I’ve come to realize I did a tremendously poor job ending this post.  My intention was to frame the question more in a global fashion, and instead, I managed to focus it entirely on myself.  I apologize for that.  Please give me the chance to take a mulligan on the closing.  Here is what I really meant to say.

To end, I have to go back to our beginning.  Well, the beginning of an end to some regards.  We’ve been enjoying many of our social networking sites in the comfort of the audience with which we grew.  For Twitter, that was somewhat of a niche audience focused in technology and social media.  Now, as people from all walks of our lives begin signing on and joining in, the question becomes, “What do we do as our worlds collide?”  Thank you, George Costanza for that classic episode.  As Matt said in the comments, he’s long wondered what he will do when his parents join Facebook.  That’s how I really meant to end this post.  How will our expectations and experiences change with social networks as they begin to aggregate people from all areas of our lives in one location?  I remember what George said.

Thanks tVanderlin for the Flickr image.


  1. Dan Stucke
    March 27, 2009

    As I said at the time, I’m undecided on the idea of a professional / personal twitter account. It’s a really tough call, and I agree wholeheartedly that a little twitter inanity is a good thing!

    I think I’ll keep Facebook wholly for friends and Twitter mainly for work, if my non-educational friends can put up with my Twitter feed then fair play to them!

  2. Thomas Sheppard
    March 27, 2009

    No, I would not stop following you if you tweeted more of your personal life. You raise a good question though. What reasons would lead me to unfollow someone in twitter? I did tweet once that I would unfollow anybody that kept cursing, were sexually inappropriate or kept talking about who they hooked up with. But I think it is a matter of moderation. If you talked about what you had for lunch all the time and nothing else I might. But if you are tweeting things I find interesting then I would keep following you anyway (except for the above mentioned).

    I thought your tweet from church was hilarious and being a fellow Christian I appreciated the situation. I’m trying to sort the tweets I get and it is getting harder as my network grows but Tweetdeck groups is helping with that (though not perfect).

  3. Kelly Hines
    March 27, 2009

    It is interesting that you bring this up. I don’t have a problem with tweeting from church, and I certainly wouldn’t unfollow someone for this reason. I also wouldn’t unfollow someone who shared other tidbits of their personal life (I mean, I still follow Jon even though he’s a Duke fan). Instead, I consider how a person is adding value to my life – especially within the framework that I specifically use Twitter (professional and personal learning). Since you definitely add value to my PLN, you are stuck with me!

  4. Ann Oro
    March 27, 2009

    I often see people I follow send messages to you. Tonight I decided to click on your id and followed over to your blog. In its own way, I find your post sort of funny. I think my husband would have a conniption if I sent a tweet from church. I cannot imagine the stares you would get if you started doing it on a regular basis. It does take “you never know how many people are backchanneling during a presentation” to a whole new level.

    I wouldn’t unfollow someone who tweets from a sermon. I’m more in line with Thomas’ thinking in respect to who I would unfollow.

    When you see @njtechteacher following you, it’s me. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on education and other unrelated things.

  5. Dean Shareski
    March 27, 2009

    If you haven’t read this, you should:

    I have no intention of setting up 2 accounts. I yam what I yam.

  6. Matt T
    March 28, 2009

    I have been wondering what I will do when my parents inevitably join facebook…

  7. Scott Meech
    March 28, 2009

    The tolerance for following someone within Twitter and other social networks is closely related to their appreciation of that person and the activities they have in common. I wouldn’t unfollow you because I know you well enough and you have become an important part of my PLN. However, if a member of my network with whom I don’t know well began pushing out information unrelated to what I find interesting and important, than yes I can see unfollowing them. This would have nothing to do with the subject matter (unless it was crass and inappropriate) per se.

    I look at this as a return on investment issue. We have a finite amount of time to learn and work. If someone isn’t giving me a good return on my attention investment, than I would need to cut my expensives.

  8. Doug Belshaw
    April 5, 2009

    I remembered your tweets when I was in church myself today. My wife and child are at the in-laws whilst I get some work done, so I was at church by myself. I didn’t use the Bible reader on my phone. Why? People would think I was texting.

    Whilst I think attitudes towards the above need to change, I’m *not* of the opinion that things like Twitter have a place in church services – at least not your average church service. I think that it would distract from the whole reason you go there in the first place…

  9. Ben Grey
    April 5, 2009

    Dan- I think that is where many people are drawing their lines of demarcation with their social networks. Facebook is more social, Twitter is used more to connect with other professionals. I’m not saying that’s the way it will always be, especially with more and more people joining Twitter now, but it seems that’s been the organic breakdown thus far.

    Thomas- I agree with you 100% about TweetDeck making Twitter entirely more functional and palatable as your network grows. Some people are averse to using a separate client for Twitter, but I think it has made all the difference for me.

    Kelly- I’m honored, and most certainly the greater beneficiary for being “stuck with you.” Glad to have you as one of my incredibly valuable resources.

    Ann- Thanks for the follow. I have added you to my network and am glad to already be learning from you. I do believe the technology in church discussion is an important one that should be had in the near future.

    Dean- Very nice perennial herbaceous reference. The article does a nice job of detailing how social networks are bringing us back to a place of community we’ve not had for a long, long time. Very interesting read.

    Matt- I will encourage your parents to join and friend you next time I see them in church.

    Scott- And that is the power of networks like Twitter. We can all shape the stream we follow as we see fit. It does make it tough, however, if we want to share things at the risk of losing people in our network we value. I think there’s still a lot to be worked out in this new world.

    Doug- That was exactly the conversation my wife and I had later that Sunday afternoon. I would love to have a longer conversation about this as I believe it is directly related to our approach to technology in education as well. Let me know if you want to chat about it some time. There’s a lot to discuss here.

  10. Doug Belshaw
    April 5, 2009

    Ben, absolutely! I’m doug_belshaw on Skype. 🙂

    BTW, is it possible for you to install a plugin on this blog, or use Disqus so that comment authors get notified when people reply to them please?

  11. skambalu
    April 5, 2009

    Have found this an interesting conversation. I keep my Facebook account for friends, but Twitter straddles that fine line between professional and personal. I use it primarily as a professional tool, and I generally follow teachers and others in education; however, I also twitter random stream of consciousness thoughts as well, and enjoy the little excursions into the personal lives of others.

    I’ve been intrigued today to discover just how many of the people I follow, and have never met, are churchgoers. I tend not to write about my own faith (I think perhaps being an RE teacher means that while I am very happy to twitter about anything religious, I am also conscious that sharing my own faith in education is a very sensitive area!). However, I also had an interesting experience earlier this week where someone was confused about the fact I mentioned going to church because he thought that I had elsewhere been open about my lack of mainstream belief – turns out he got me confused with my husband, who also twitters but in a very different way and under a very different username.

    Finally, twittering in church. Or anything else involving mobiles in church, for that matter. Every week I read the little blurb in the church newsletter: “As you enter the church there is a sign which tells all to switch off all MOBILE PHONES. This means that they are not switched on until you leave the church. I have noticed in recent weeks that some people have been talking on a mobile phone before leaving the church. Can I ask those who do this to stop, as this is a House of Prayer where people come to pray and not to have a conversation on a mobile phone that they can have outside the church and preferably in public.” In fact, this week it was mentioned twice. I’m not so sure about whether this is related to our approach to technology in worship as to our approach to prayer and spending time with God … I tweeted on the way to church and when I came out of church today, and would have loved to have recorded parts of the service today (blessing of the palms and entrance to church particularly beautiful), but surely then my mind is not entirely on God?

    Definitely a lot to discuss and think about – sorry if I’ve gone on a bit, think this is my longest comment ever on a blog post.

  12. mandy
    April 5, 2009

    I agree with Doug that technology can be distracting to people in church, but if the church started thinking, “How can we reach people through technology?” their message might go further. I can talk to people all over the world with Twitter and yet, I have a hard time telling my neighbor what went on in church because I never see them. What a way to reach people! I am hoping to be able to start more of a ministry with technology in my church- such as Ustreaming the broadcast and having the pastor Twitter his message.

  13. Barb in Nebraska
    April 5, 2009

    I can understand a desire to have 2 accounts. But I tweet about Catholic stuff and I tweet about educational stuff. After all, I am a Catholic school teacher. And that’s what I am.

    Here’s a plug for a podcasting priest in the Netherlands, Fr. Roderick is his name. He runs the network. His network reaches lots of people through new media with Ustream, podcasts, video podcasts and various social networking sites.

  14. Jason
    April 7, 2009

    I really appreciate everyone’s comments about this topic. Much of what Ben writes I don’t understand. This time I only had to look up a few words. I am one of those people that likes to be myself no matter what arena I am in. I hold back from time to time so as not to embarrass my wife or offend others, but I echo what has already been stated, “I am who I am.” To me it really comes down to a minor difference, I can expose who I am without imposing that on others.


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