Your Tools Won’t Save You or #thepopeisdope

While approaching a dimly lit, graffiti covered, warehouse I called my friend. “What’s the code to get in?” I asked.  He answered, “Hashtag, 4-5-2-1.” Here in San Francisco, in the tech bubble bath (lots of bubbles), this mark – # – is no longer the “pound sign” or a “number symbol.” It is the symbol used on Twitter and other microblogging sites to easily create and track “tending topics.” Right now Twitter says these hashtags are trending:


Odd then that the same online community that is trending #igotdrunkand now welcomes Pope Benedict XVI (@pontifex). The Vatican released a statement that said “The pope’s presence on Twitter can be seen as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ that is the church’s presence in the world of new media.” Spokesperson Burke went on to say while Twitter is a tool that can be used to reach all of 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, they are specifically looking to engage with young Catholics. This is not a new phenomenon.  Religious leaders from nearly all traditions have a strong presence on Twitter. Their content is often among the most favorited and retweeted on the internet. But like so many before me have pondered, I wonder if the tool of Twitter will help them with the outcome they desire.

Twitter is a tool. And as my friend Robin wisely stated, for “any tool, its impact is determined by the vision of those who use it. Great architecture isn’t created by hammers. It’s created by architects and carpenters with highly developed vision.” My perception of most tools is that they do not change the influence of the user. Rather, the character and vision of that user is more evident as they use the tool. Consider Twitter again. Comedians use Twitter to be make crass quippy jokes and mock the popular. Pastors use it to encourage their communities, to invite people to church, and to argue with other pastors. Restaurant chefs use it for promotions, menu updates, and holiday closures. Tools are an extension of their user.

It’s not just Twitter. We have tool-obsessed organizations too. For example, one of the clients I work with, after five years of shrinking revenue, has a new strategy to increase the sales of their product. Their discussion is all about the tools that they will use to drive sales. TV marketing, online search optimization, and edits to their brand’s design are all ideas on the table. The over reliance on these tools has drawn their attention away from what may be the main issue for the lack of sales – the quality of their product. It is easier to believe that a tool is a solution to their problem than to overhaul the product.

Two thoughts that may pertain to us…

We are more than our tools. I often see my work or “vocation” in terms of the specific tools that I use – consulting, speaking, teaching, writing, coaching – as opposed to seeing my vocation as a more universal way of being.  So you may be an actor but you are also a maker of things with a passion for storytelling and the ability to connect deeply with others. You are a stay at home mother but it is not just your cooking and crafts, it is your hospitality, tenderness, and creativity that add so much value. You are a priest that teaches, but it is more than your front of room leadership – it is the way that you see the world and kindly provoke others to evaluate themselves that creates change. Could it be that we have a narrow view of our work because we are enmeshed with the tools we use to do the work?

Tools won’t save you. I am not sure that the Vatican believes Twitter will be the magic bullet that connects the Catholic church with youngin’s, but I am also not sure they don’t. I believe we rely too heavily on tools. Another personal example – I have a four-month-old son who doesn’t really enjoy the sleeping at the night time. In search of a solution we have tried five different methods (or tools). Resonating with the logic of most of these methods, we would obey their directions perfectly. The problem with relying on tools as we did is that we missed opportunities to see the unique needs of our son. We believed that a tool would help us more than being present, observant, patient parents who happen to use some tools now and again. There will always be new tools but the fanciest, shiniest, technoest tools will not save you from needing to be a great user – your present and authentic self.




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