What Would Jesus Blog?

Digital Natives

by on Nov.14, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

Hi! I’m Rob, and I’m a digital native. Computers have been in every school since before I was born, and I’ve grown up around mobile phones, the Web and email. I pretty much can’t imagine life without them, and like digital natives around me, digital communications is an everyday part of life. Somehow, even though it’s used by almost everyone these days, I’ve always felt that older people just don’t ‘get’ technology – sure, they use it, but often they seem to use it as a replacement for something offline that came before, rather than as a natural part of life as my friends do. The same’s often true of the church – I’ve so often felt that they’ve come close but just missed the mark in understanding how I tick.

Technology is part of my identity at every level as a digital native. There’s not an ‘online’ me and an ‘offline’ me – most of what I do online I do under my own name or one of a handful of previous monikers, mostly conceived to protect my personal details as a teenager. In fact, most of my online activity relates to my offline relationships – texts to people who are too far away to see as much as I’d like to, online chat to people who might be busy with something else, or just arranging my social life. The photos from Friday night are up on Facebook – it’s nothing special, just how we share our memories. Sure, sometimes I engage in identity play – but that’s as much a part of growing up as the day I first touched hair gel. Hallvard Mavendorf in Second Life is a subset of Rob Redpath in Real Life – with a few tweaks to escape some of things I’d rather forget about myself.

I understand online dangers intuitively – while it’s important to teach kids online safety just like we were taught road safety, observers are often surprised at how younger generations have the same sixth sense about things online as they do about dangers offline. Incidentally, why do we teach kids about sex from Year 5, but not sexting? Or about stranger danger from the start, but not Facebook until the age of 13 because the TOC don’t allow under-13s to use it?

This, and many other, differences between digital natives and previous generations, have led to a lot of misunderstandings. Missiologist Michael Frost (from a previous generation) talks about people online in his book Exiles– he describes it as “another form of hyper-reality […] [in that] it looks like we’re meeting people via the Web, but really we’re meeting only the acceptable persona that they want displayed to the world”. He’s kinda got a point – but digital natives don’t buy it. Digital natives know that what someone puts online is what they want people to see – and they draw their conclusions about the real person from that. Someone’s Facebook profile is a creative work – the face they put on to go online, and digital natives know it.

A lot’s been said recently about ministering to people online – meeting people where they’re at is the buzzword, and where they’re at seems to be online. That’s kinda true – my generation spend ages online, and the Web provides an ideal medium for a lot of interaction and discovery of faith. But while offline-only church only scratches part of where I itch, so does online-only church. My mates are online and offline, and I’m convinced Jesus is. So why does the church allow the two to be so disconnected?

Further reading:-

Palfrey & Gasser – Born Digital
Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture

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