The panel on social networking was this past weekend, and I learned something. Over the past several months I can’t count how many times I’ve read the statement that Generation Y are digital natives and the rest of us are digital immigrants. It has always sounded like one of those things people say when they’re trying to scare parents into buying some sort of cyber-nanny program, or a subscription to “Internet Terrors All Parents Should Stay Up Nights Worrying About.” In short, I didn’t take it seriously.
I went into this panel experience thinking my audience was going to be active social networkers looking for ways to honor God and set boundaries in their usage. Instead I found myself in a room full of digital immigrants – some in culture shock and others just looking for a guidebook to help them “find the bathroom” so to speak. The problem is that I didn’t figure that out until the time was almost up.
So if you were there, or if you feel like an alien every time you stick your toe in the internet surf, this is what I wish I would have said.
Driving is the most dangerous activity in which we participate on a daily basis. We all understand that, and we take precautions. We buckle our seat belts and put our kids in car seats. We drive the speed limit (or close to it) and stop at stop lights and obey traffic laws. When our children are old enough we enroll them in driver’s education and teach them defensive driving and supervise their driving and set boundaries. We do all of those things, and we still drive regularly. The internet is a tool, like your car; the use of it carries risks, but with informed use and an awareness of the risks, it can be far more of an asset to your life than a terror.
Additionally, we need to understand that social networking specifically is a valuable tool. Gossip, slander, pornography, gambling, bullying, narcissism, and the like all existed before the internet. They are a product of sinful people living in a sinful world. Gossip and meddling was a problem in the first century church, and was a problem among the Puritans in both England and America, and was a problem in the 1950′s (when it was blamed on the telephone). We must always guard our tongue (even when it is actually our fingers. I think you know what I mean.) and keep ourselves from evil, regardless of the medium in which we communicate.
Almost 40 years ago, when my mother followed her new husband (my dad) from Australia to Canada, telephone calls were prohibitively expensive and the mail took weeks. When I was born my parents made Super8 films of me and sent them to my grandparents, which were out of date by the time they arrived. Today, because of social networking, my parents and my parents-in-law can feel included in the lives of their long distance grandchildren. My aunt in Australia, my sister and mother in Ontario and Jonathan’s family in Saskatchewan and BC can all see pictures of special events within a day or two of them happening. Missionaries can be in regular contact with their sending churches for free instead of spending hundreds of dollars to mail out quarterly newsletters.
Like our cars, the benefits of social networking are legion and immigrants or not, we need to learn to speak its language.