Last week was General Conference and I had one of the most positive experiences that I have had in years. I’ve watched close to ever session of GenConf for as long as I can remember, so I have had lots of experience. GenConf as a missionary was the best—we gathered as a district and would watch one session a day for a week and it was a break from the norm, also one of the only times we could WATCH something (although, let’s be honest, when you are SO starved for entertainment that GenConf is entertaining you’re in dire, dire straits and not jamming out with the Sultans of Swing getting your Money for Nothing).
So, why was this past week so great? I live-tweeted every session, which I’ve never done before (I was initially intending on totally disengaging from social media because it seems to be a breeding ground for two very different responses that taint my experience: the spiritually saccharine responses and the hurt, critical, bordering on unforgiving, ones).
But, why did this help me (and others…hopefully)?
I think there are a few reasons (surprise!).
- Released My Snark. I’m pretty snarky (if you know me that’s really no surprise and if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, also probably no surprise). I don’t use my snark to attack or be negative; it’s just my way of engaging with the world (whether that’s good or bad, is an entirely different question). GenConf usually doesn’t provide an outlet for my snarkiness (without ruining the experience for whomever I am watching with, which is just rude and that’s not me). But twitter was the perfect place for me to be snarky without detracting from the spirit that those around me were feeling.
- Engaged with the Material (Accountability?). Because I was live-tweeting, I felt an obligation to be engaged with GenConf, aka there was a sense of accountability introduced. I mean, I usually feel that way due to surrounding social pressures, but this was different. It felt less stressful and more positive. Anyway, I was engaging with the ‘text’ if you will (even if you won’t, I’m still going to call it that. *Shrug*). That engagement was positive, rather than letting the message pass through me unprocessed to paper, I needed to transform it from the words that were spoken into something valuable and meaningful for me. To borrow a scriptural phrase, to liken it unto myself (liken? Really? Liken lichen…weird).
- Relaxed. I wasn’t focused on trying to be super spiritual and receive some grand life-changing revelation, but was simply going to let the Spirit wash over me. I tend to feel more enlightenment when I am not overly worried about becoming enlightened (oh the paradox…maybe I’m just terrible at striving for enlightenment and need to try harder). Rather than worrying about writing down brilliant insights from each talk and losing the very Spirit I was trying to gain, I just let go and waited for inspiration to come.
- Re-directed My Criticality. I’m a critic (in almost every sense of the word. The more educated I become, the better armed I am to critique). This can make watching GenConf difficult. It tends to be a place of grand, simplified arguments that are (or pretend to be) ignorant of history. I tend to lose sight of the Spirit that the speaker’s trying to bring by focusing on the flaws in their argument. BUT, tweeting focused my attention on being clever and snarky (which may cross-over into finding holes in argumentation, but in a much more light-hearted, well-intentioned way). I distracted my intellect, better allowing me to feel the spirit of the messages.
- Lightened the Mood. GenConf is largely a deathly serious 8-12 hour adventure. Sure, there are attempts at humor, but with a few exceptions (Pres. Monson) the humor is that terrible Mormon pulpit humor and the delivery is atrocious. And, I get that (the deathly serious part, not the atrocious humor part). For most people, reverence is linked with seriousness. I don’t really buy into that (did you read my “Undead, Zombie Jesus” poem?). I mean, I’m a pretty thoughtful, introspective, deep person (attributes typically linked with a serious nature), but given my snark (mentioned above) I tend to always engage with a dash of snark and sarcasm, seriously undermining my seriousness. Snarkily tweeting created a more light-hearted atmosphere that was more conducive to the way that I personally engage with the Spirit (and life generally).
And there you have it. Why live-tweeting made GenConf work for me.
But before you go: a couple closing thoughts. One from Andrew Delbanco’s book College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be: “Although a lecture takes place in public, listening to it was—and ideally, still is—a fundamentally private experience” (61-62). I stumbled on this while doing research for a paper yesterday and it seemed important. I feel like social media kind of bridges that gap as well, providing public exposure of a primarily private experience. Therefore it seems a fitting supplement to the lecture experience (which GenConf definitely fits into).
More importantly however, is a scripture we all know: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Tweeting made GenConf a joyful experience for me (yes, joyful. Not just a lowly, worldly pleasurable experience. Straight-up joy). This probably won’t be the case for everyone, but it sure was for me. It’s been a long time since GenConf left me with an overwhelmingly happy and positive feeling.
And that’s how snark put the Spirit back in General Conference.