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Angela Tilby: Lent is no time to give up Twitter

22 March 2019


BEING mildly addicted to Twitter, I was considering giving it up for Lent. But then came a series of tweets from disabled people asking other tweeters not to shut down, because they didn’t want to lose the sense of connectedness for the six-week period.

So, I continued, only to find that Twitter did, indeed, become an important part of my Lenten journey. I should explain that I have always been straightforward about my Twitter identity. I tweet as myself, not as “LooseCanon” or any other sad or witty pseudonym. I provide a photo and a short biography.

When I started tweeting, I was quite impulsive. There were ghastly tweets that made me cross, and my instinct was to fire off a quick, clever put-down. The first time I did this, I was quite shocked at the storm of abuse that came back. More recently, when I was faced with some ghastly Brexit stuff, the thought jumped into my head that I should invent a new identity, so that I could respond in kind to tweets that I considered out of order.

This jumping into my head of the thought of becoming someone different was an extraordinary moment, and it shook me into recognising what was going on. Ten years ago, I researched and wrote a book about the early Christian ascetic Evagrius, who taught ways of recognising and resisting the logismoi: evil thoughts that oppress those attempting the life of prayer. Logismoi arise spontaneously in the human mind, and, when they do, Evagrius says, they attract the attention of demons who magnify them, exploiting our vulnerabilities and driving us into sin.

That spontaneous impulse to become another, different self on Twitter brought me straight back to Evagrius. I recognised that the wilful splitting of the self into good and evil personae is the ground of what we call sin. I wanted to preserve my good self while making room for a hostile alter ego who could carry out my darker impulses.

So, this Lent, I have tried to use Twitter as a spiritual exercise in discernment. We all want to be innocent, and Twitter plays into this desire. Adam hid in the garden, and then blamed Eve for his fall. Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent slunk away.

Twitter, like other social-media platforms, is so immediate and intimate that it constantly sets off little explosions, breaching the defences between the public and private self. This is why it is so compulsive. It feels good to be part of the intimate spontaneous human flow of thoughts and emotions and reactions, while hiding behind false and fleeting identities.

I value the interchange in Twitter, and will continue to engage with it. But now I count to ten (at least) before my fingers hit the keyboard.

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