When ‘retweet’ is ‘amen’

Yesterday I found myself amongst the thousands joining in with the @natwivity story on Twitter.  Throughout the day there were messages from a growing cavalcade of Wise Men, reflections on Old Testament prophecy, and evocative descriptions of Mary and Joseph in waiting. It was all great fun. However, the thing which struck me most was the enormous number of ‘retweets’  (where a Twitter user reposts a message to all their followers at a single stroke). I lost count of the number of times I got the same message on my feed retweeted from different sources.

Here’s the thing, though. The people retweeting weren’t being lazy because they couldn’t be bothered to write their own messages. They weren’t being dishonest either, and claiming the message content as their own – each was properly attributed. No, what they were doing was contributing to the enormous power of digital rumour. They were simply passing something on for others to enjoy or ponder.

Of course humankind has been doing this for centuries.  What the information revolution has done, with the digitisation of data and the connectedness of social media -is to speed up the process. We love to share the latest news, or the funniest story or the most shocking opinion – technology just means we can do it faster. If the shepherds ‘returned rejoicing’ today they would be updating their Facebook status or posting a Tweet from their phones – but it amounts to the same thing.

When I was first new to computing I found it hard to get my head around the ‘human’ use of language when people talked about their computer catching a virus in the same way as they might say that their child had caught the flu. Many years and a few computer episodes later I know just what they meant! It’s the same thing with talking about a story ‘going viral’ Its sounds so sordid and unpleasant – until you are the one whose story or advert spreads like wildfire. Last week I posted a wonderful advent video on this website. Every time it is viewed it displays on the bottom the name of the photography company who made it. I’m sure they are delighted with the 2 million plus views it has received on YouTube. As @natwivity gathers pace  can we foresee a moment when Baby Jesus ‘goes viral’ I wonder?

One of the many quirks of Christianity is the way that Christians around the world, no matter what their mother tongue, will utter an obscure Aramaic word at the end of a prayer. When they say “amen” it means “truly”, and is a shorthand for saying “I agree with what the previous speaker has just prayed”. Many of the hundreds pressing their retweet button during #natwivity yesterday were simply doing the same thing – with a mouse and without the Aramaic.

So, will Baby Jesus go viral this Christmas? Amen to that!