Monday, March 31, 2008

Natives and Nomads: Digital Youth


Albert Mohler has a really good piece today at his blog about the kinds of folks that live in the digital world. I would encourage you to read it, and give it some thought.

This is one of those areas that I'm somewhat split on, and have been for many years. Living in the country where we cannot get a signal, we're essential rotary dial, instead of digital. I know that just using the word "rotary" I've already confused a large part of the population, were they to actually be sitting here reading my blog. Living also on a strict budget, we're not one of those families where all the kids have ipods, blackberries and laptops in every room. We do have 2 desktop computers, and we just got a cell phone last summer, but I've still never used it.

There are some things that bother me about digital youth, and the biggest thing about it is socialization. I know how funny that sounds coming from a homeschooler, but when you really think about it, there's merit there. If all your closest friends are those 427 people on your facebook, what kind of face to face interpersonal communication skills have you really developed? Further, if you honestly think those people meet the description of "friend" (as opposed to aquaintance, or associate) then what does that say? While it is indeed possible to develop genuine friendships with folks you meet first online, I don't care who you are, no one has 400 friends, by the strict definition of the word.

The other thing that bothers me about going digital is that I honestly wonder what happens to the old school way of doing things once everyone has gone digital? Do we forget how to pick up a book, or what to do with it once its in hand? Will we no longer rely on our memory if everyone's phone, cell, email and website url is auto-programmed for a one button click? In addition, do we honestly need to be plugged in, at 14 years old?

In one really interesting example, I noticed how the digital age has actually replaced several people in the photography studio. Last year when our church had the pictorial directory done, the entire process was done by 2 people. The photographer used a digital camera. When she was done with a shoot, she popped the media card out of the camera, popped it into a media reader and sent the best of the set into another office for the salesman to show the families - in case they wanted to order additional portraits. Now, I worked in a commercial photography studio for years, and this process not only cut out about 2 weeks time, but it also cut out several jobs. Yes it's highly convenient, and yes it cuts down wait time by an incredible speed, but... is that the most important thing?

podheadI know that if we lived in town where high speed net access was available, we'd have it. I know I'd also dearly love to have a laptop so that on those gorgeous days when I'm working I could do it from the deck so that I could hear the birds sing and just enjoy being outside, even if I'm working. But I think that's about as digital as I really would like to go, for myself. For my kids, I'm still old school and don't want to see them getting sucked into it and becoming the kinds of kids that have to remove ear buds to have a conversation with anyone, face to face.

Not long ago I created a design for my store called podhead, which most of you likely saw in the 'new in store' tab here on the sidebar. Several people commented to me (on and offline) that this is the symbol for young people today - and I agree. I see it everywhere I go, and I'm sure you do too. While the design was done in humor, I just have to wonder where this is all leading, and what (and who) will suffer as a result.

Of course I know that it's all very convenient, and it's also all very useful. I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater here, I just find myself concerned about a balance.

So, I've got a new poll and I'd love to hear your thoughts. This one is different in that you can click as many answers that apply to you personally, so feel free to click away. Oh, the irony.

Final poll results:


cell phone 22 (73%)
Camera 18 (60%)
Laptop 16 (53%)
mp3 players 15 (50%)
Completely wireless, thanks 11 (36%)
PDA 8 (26%)
Dial up is what nightmares are made of 5 (16%)
Not really 4 (13%)
All of the above 4 (13%)
gamer consoles 3 (10%)
Half & half, maybe 3 (10%)