Thought Factory Podcast #106 || Social Media Part 3: Digital Discipleship

In episode #106, hosts Jeff Eckart and Jayson Brewer interview Dr. Craig Detweiler.  Craig is a media professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, filmmaker, and author of iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives. What does it mean to hand over a smartphone, a very powerful device, to an adolescent when there is not an owner’s manual that accompanies it?  We discuss Craig’s in-depth research in media and adolescents’ relationship to social media, so we can have a better handle on how we can disciple students.

In a world where we are constantly plugged in and always accessible, Craig discusses the need to hit the pause button.   He has found that students’ attention wonder and they have a hard time concentrating because of the many digital enticements in our lives.

We discussed the idea of a 24-Hour Electronic Sabbath – a 24-hour period of time free from all electronics.  Students in Craig’s class found this to be difficult but also freeing.  With electronics, we never take a break from them.  By taking a full day “unplugged” we are able to recover the roots of Sabbath and enjoy the benefits of God’s command of rest.

Craig’s research have found that students are remarkably stressed out because of the pressure to keep up with their online world and their physical world right in front of them. They are struggling to do both. They have to follow their friend’s drama, have to text and respond immediately.  The tyranny of the urgent.  The pressures of social media management cause people to always curate who they are with every event in their life.  It is peer pressure crossed over into public performance. Everything can be judged and is permanent.

This idea led to the popularity of Snapchat, which is impermanent and doesn’t feel like this digital trail will haunt you in the future.

Other stresses come from adding more platforms, which invite more voices into your life.

As parents, we are still allowed to be parents and are free to take things away.  But we also have the responsibility to model the type of behavior we desire out of our students.  What are we modeling for our kids when we are just as engulfed in our phones as they are?

Kids are taking refuge in their phones because they are not getting the full undivided attention from the adults in their life.  Undivided attention is the rarest thing students encounter in their life with adults. To be fully present to adolescents, to each other, we will have done a very subversive act of love – it’s the new measurement – do you love me more than your cell phone, will you turn off your device for me?

Do we know how to care for people in our online spaces? Our good intentions may be the wrong response in social media.  Ministry is personal and interpersonal, so it may not be enough to “like” something or say I’m praying for you online.  Maybe it is calling us to actually get in the car and meet with the person who is in need.  We serve an incarnational God, who believes in being present.

Digital Discipleship requires far more physical presence in a way of communicating the love of God.  But we live in a digital world that has been created so don’t need to be face to face with other people anymore.  We are told we need to conform to this type of behavior.  Do we

For students, there is a fear of missing out (FOMO).  We need to figure out how to post things that feel inclusive that don’t turn-off or write-off those who were not there.  How we love somebody in the digital space is tricky, and the type of message we are sending is very important.  It may appear that we are simply posting a great photo of an event, but does it cause students to feel excluded?

We are surrounded by too much information and not enough time, so is discernment the challenge for the 21st Century?

How do we find the good and true information?  How do we practice wisdom and discernment in a world of competing voices and demands?

If you chose to take a 24-hour Electronic Sabbath away from all digital devices, how would you choose to spend your time?

Are smartphones a right or a privilege?

Do we bow down to technology and treat each other as an algorithm?