I sat down to listen to a podcast and hold my newborn daughter a few days ago. Listening about the role technology plays in one of my favorite hobbies, hobby board gaming, I began thinking. The world my daughter will grow up in will be vastly different from the world I experienced. My teenage years are quickly getting further and further from me and along with it, my ability to understand youth culture. However, I know that the one thing that has characterized my generation and will continue to deeply affect future generations is the role of technology in the lives of teenagers.
The Internet was not commonly used in people’s homes when I was in elementary and early middle school. Our papers and reports for school were not typed and we turned in everything handwritten. We learned how to write in cursive. Computers ran slowly and those who did have the Internet in their homes couldn’t use their home phone when they logged on. Yes, at one time you had to actually log on to access the Internet and we had landline phones in our houses because none of us had cell phones. I know that sounds like the Dark Ages. However, I had the chance to grow up in one of the most engaging times in human history because my generation has seen the jump from an analog society to a digital world.
Today, teenagers enter middle school with computers in their pockets called iPhones that are ten times more powerful than my family’s first desktop PC. Screens are now a part of every hour of every day. Most two and three year olds can navigate an iPad better than their parents or grandparents. The vast majority of teenagers now grow up with the Internet as a powerful force fully integrated into their daily lives. They never really “log off”; they know nothing but the digital world.
As someone who has been a part of both the analog and the digital world, I want to give you two reasons to unplug:
1. Technology connects us while simultaneously isolating us. Technology has done a great job of connecting us to other people, cultures, and values. With limitless access to the Internet we can know just about anything or talk to anyone at any time. This enormous blessing also comes with a price. Despite having loads of Facebook friends, Instagram followers, or Snapchat contacts (is that even what they are called?? I don’t do Snapchat…. I’m too old), teenagers feel less supported and more alone than ever. The Internet, and specifically social media, offer a very poor replacement for true human relationships.
We were created to have relationships with one another and although the Internet can make you feel like you have tons of friends that care about you, it actually creates fabricated and fake relationships. This is why I have fallen in love with playing board games. You really can’t play a board game without a board and a hard surface to put it on, so the digital format for board games doesn’t really count. Because this hobby forces me to use something physical, I actually need to go hang out with people to play. Through board games, I have found a renewal of connection and community that simply can’t be found through Xbox Live or Facebook Messenger.
When we unplug, we get the chance to build real relationships with real people that actually fulfill us.
2. Most of the Internet is trying to convince us that we’re not good enough. The Internet is fueled by collecting information and selling it. This is why Facebook ads know to present me with board games and bicycles instead of boxing gloves and Barbie dolls. Although, I am sure one day when my daughter is old enough to do a Google search my Facebook account will attempt to sell me Barbies. Marketers and advertisers know that teenagers have the most disposable income and the least amount of impulse control so they spend millions of dollars purchasing your information to try to sell you things.
The issue is that the primary message in all advertisement is a lie. Marketers and advertisement agencies have to convince you that without their product you are not good enough so that you will want to buy it. If you don’t believe me go and watch just about any shampoo or deodorant ad. With continual access to the Internet and screens, today’s teenagers are bombarded with the same message from advertisements thousands of times a day. The message screams, “YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” In the 1970’s it was estimated that people saw about 500 advertisements a day. In 2006 the number was closer to 5,000. Now, in 2017, I am sure it is a much higher number. If you don’t unplug, you are doomed to live in a digital world where you are continually told that you don’t add up.
Taking time to disconnect from technology in order to build genuine relationships is key to living a fulfilled and joyful life. I am thankful for everything technology has brought to our world, but taking time to disconnect, face reality, enjoy the presence of people, and embrace the beauty of life, is an even greater gift.
This week, I encourage you to turn off the screens and experience life, unplugged.
About the Author: Mark Lutz a member of the Irise Leadership Institute. He is a graduate from Geneva College’s Youth Ministry Department. He has served in various roles at New Life Christian Ministries, a large church in Saxonburg PA for the past seven years. Since June of 2016, Mark has been serving as the Discipleship Pastor and as a Lead Team member at New Life. He has spent the first decade of his professional life studying leadership, building teams, and striving to become a better communicator. Read More…