The above link leads to a very interesting article about how teens interact with media and digital communication. Much of this may not be all that surprising, but some of the findings definitely are. Although I do love my smart phone, my GPS, and my gadgets… I can still remember when my friends and I used to find sticks outside and break them into pieces that resembled guns so we could play cops and robbers. In the years following as a young teen I remember my dad had an amazing device from the future installed in his Lincoln called a “car phone”, I played a computer game called “Sim City” on my dad’s work computer… and on long family trips I played video games on something called a “Game Boy”. This device (mostly used for playing Tetris) was about the size of a brick and needed 4 AA batteries for power. And those batteries only lasted like 2 hours (or at least that’s how I remember it). Oh, and of course, there was the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). Back then my life was built on nothing less than Mario and Battle Chess. And if I wanted to play games with a friend they actually had to be in the same room with me. Imagine that! Now with XBOX Live and the PSN – you can play games with your friends from down the street or from the other side of the world. Our teens live in a world of WiFi, HD, iPod, and Broadband riches! While on the other hand, my friends and I were more like these guys below:
Being a youth pastor now, it’s been so interesting to watch our teens at work with the technology of their age. To see how they use it and how it uses them. For instance, it’s amazing how seemingly difficult it is for students to relinquish the use of their cell phone for just the hour and a half or so that we get to spend with them per week. And then there are other times when I go to ask a student to put their phone away… only to find they had their “Bible App” up and running and they were reading scripture and not texting friends!
The need students have to connect with each other has not changed over the years. Nor has their need to connect with God and the work He is doing in them and through them. We all seek connection to others and to be known by our peers. But the expression and strategy of how to connect with other has definitely changed. Sometimes for the better, but I fear more often it has been for the worse.
One example of this: since most teens have text messaging, there seems to be a constant fear and anxiety that if they’re away from their phone they’ll miss an important txt message and won’t be up to speed on all the important stuff that could be happening in their social world. So many of them stay tethered to their cell phone. They often don’t realize that their phone has become like a little prison they carry around with them.
These days there are more virtual connections than authentic connections being made with people. Why? For starters: it’s easier. It’s much easier to click the “Accept Friend” button than it is to commit to spending time with a new friend and getting to know them face to face. And there is often a false sense of closeness that arises when someone reads a Facebook profile page that is similar to theirs. We think we can “know” someone by knowing their interests and their favorite quotes, tv shows, books, movies, music, and “likes”. In the same way, teens and adults alike believe they can know God by knowing a bullet pointed list of information about church or about some things the Bible says. Sure, you can learn “about” someone, but to KNOW someone takes personal time and investment… and time seems to be a resource that so many teens are running out of. Well, they aren’t really “running out of time” … more accurately, so much of their time seems to be already claimed and demanded from them before their feet even hit the floor in the morning. Their commitments to sports, music, dance, school, etc. are all good commitments, and lots of good work is done. A solid work ethic and a strong character are often birthed from these time commitments, some friends are even made… but often teens end up neglecting and minimizing the most important work they can do in their life – developing authentic relationships. The hard work of learning how to be in relationship with others is a skill and a necessity that all people need – but sometimes our new digital resources give us the false sense that we have this one down. We don’t. And in the process for many Christians, the time it takes and the commitment that God desires for us to connect with Him is often forfeited in order to keep our commitments to less worthy things.
I’m excited to see how teens are using technology. How they’re enjoying entertainment, staying in touch, and becoming more and more creative in how they can express themselves… I just pray it is never at the cost of cultivating authentic relationships. First and foremost – with God. Then with their family and friends.