Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Young and the Digital

Watkins, S. Craig. The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network
Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future. Beacon
Press, 2009, 272 pages.

Last year I decided it was time to add at least one session to our confirmation curriculum called “how to be a Christian on-line.” Almost all of the middle school youth who attend our church are on Facebook, so I read their status updates and comments. I often enter into the fray, and have come to realize that although they receive some guidance from their parents on how to interact face-to-face at school and home, very little direction is on offer for how to relate on-line.
Watkins, in this fascinating study of the young and the digital, writes, “One of the chief challenges facing schools specifically and society more generally, is teaching young people how to successfully navigate the digital world they are so deeply immersed in.”[1] So action step number one after reading this book will be to design such a class, preferably integrated into what we are already doing in bible study or mission trips.
Second, as I was arriving at my new call here in Arkansas, approximately fifty members of the congregation friended me on Facebook prior to my arrival. I learned firsthand how true Watkin’s observation is that “in traditional kinds of communities… we are accustomed to meeting people and then getting to know them; in virtual communities, you can get to know people and then choose to meet them.”[2] The transition was a completely different kind of move than my previous move, precisely because Facebook allowed me to get to know people before we ever arrived. That is an overwhelming conceptual and relational shift in our culture that I think we are only now barely starting to get our brains and hearts around.

Third, it had not occurred to me until I read this book that class and race issues will arise and are arising as these new media emerge. Henry Jenkin’s book on Convergence Culture also points out the heteronomity of the early adopters of new media. Watkins observes, “Many of the distinctions college students make in relation to social-network sites are not merely about taste; they are also about the preservation of social status and privilege.”[3] I am not surprised by this, but am thankful to Watkins for drawing my attention to it. What it likely means in my ministry is that since the social media I use will tend to connect me most strongly to those of my same race and social status, I will have to work hard to be aware of the ways that happens, and then intentionally connect outside of and through social media selected by those of a different class and race in order to be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.

[1] Kindle location 512.
[2] Kindle location 814.
[3] Kindle location 1182.

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