re: authentic relationships

This is a reply to the article Authentic Relationships in the Adventist Review.

Before I get started on my rant, I want to say that the my main issues with the article are not with the conclusions(mostly) or the intentions of the author. Nor am I trying to disrespect her. I feel that this article is, unfortunately, very typical of the Baby Boom and X generations. What is not being realized is that that the Net Generation is causing major cultural changes and are actually wired to think differently. (If you want to read about this, I highly recommend Grown Up Digital(Amazon) by Don Tapscott.)

For starters, it was very apparent to me that the author had little clue about what she was talking about, in regard to Twitter and how the Net Generation relates to the world. It was well researched, but not to the point of true understanding. I recognized many snippets from multiple articles I’ve read over the last few years. Unfortunately, they were written by authors with the same alarmist misconceptions brought on by misunderstanding of how things are changing.

Let’s just clear up the most basic of understandings right now. The difference between SMS and Twitter.

SMS Twitter
Message text (message) tweet
Action text
text messaging
Length 160 characters 140 characters
Communication Me to You Me to Followers or Everyone

Texting is like email, usually a person to person experience. Twitter is like blogging, where anyone can see what you wrote. Now let me break down something that the article ignored. Twitter can be used via SMS. So the line, “tweeting is surpassing text messaging among adults, while texting continues to be young people’s choice of instant communication”, doesn’t make much sense without qualifications that aren’t mentioned. The reason for the 140 character limitation was so that Twitter could text users’ messages. As in, username + tweet needed to be less than 160 characters. Let’s move on. I could get stuck forever on explaining Twitter and how it is being used.

As a parish pastor, until now my biggest worry was teenagers texting during worship services. Now I have to contend with adults tweeting what they think while I preach. Several immediate problems are posed by these new modes of communication, particularly for ministers.

I completely agree with this, but not for the reasons that she stated. The problem is not about how to combat this trend, but how to take advantage of it. Now, I completely agree that txting/tweeting that has nothing to do with with the service is just a hindrance to receiving the message. But this is not new. I remember “txting” my friends by writing on the bulletin while I was in high school. Even today, I see adults sometimes ask a question via the same method. So, please stop trying to make this out to be some new problem. It just happens that they may be communicating with someone up to halfway around the world instead of in the same pew. Welcome to the beginning of the first global culture.

If this is something not completely new, what does that mean? Well, that the answer to it isn’t new either. The clothes that the answer wears have changed over time and is unique to each presenter, but the answer is still the same. Engagement of the audience. The ways to engage an audience have changed over time. For some presenters, this has changed little since they are extremely gifted in a way that resonates regardless of culture changes. For others, this means that they may need to take advantage of new technologies such as Twitter. For example, check out the TIME article Twittering in Church, With the Pastor’s Encouragement which highlights how pastors are using Twitter/texts. I don’t think every pastor, or even most, need to use tools like Twitter, but regardless of how the person engages an audience, it has to be relevant. Just about any topic can be interesting if it is made relevant. If most of the teens aren’t paying attention, then they aren’t seeing how the message means anything to them. Again, I could keep going off on tangents in this area, but I’m trying to stay on task.

I mostly agree with the first stated point in the article that people will miss something if they are distracted by communicating digitally. I don’t agree that communicating with others, via whatever form, is necessarily all-consuming, especially for the Net Generation as they are wired for multitasking; but it is true that they will be missing something. Although I mostly agree, I was turned off by the tone of the paragraph ending.

The second point about sexting, I felt was completely irrelevant to the article. It is definitely a very important discussion, but completely irrelevant.

Now the third point is the most alarming to me. This is where there is an utter failure to realize the differences that cultural and generational changes are bringing. Texting and tweeting do not “rob” anyone of personal relationships. That’s like saying that the telephone robbed us of personal relationships. If a person has no relationship experiences in the physical world, then they have relational issues; but the issues aren’t caused by txting or tweeting too much.

Instead of having face-to-face conversations, as has been the custom, they now sit next to, or across from each other, without eye contact, text-messaging what they are thinking. This practice promotes virtual relationships devoid of the important contributions of body language that deepen the “knowing” of another person, not to mention the ruin of speaking and spelling abilities.

There are two points here I have a problem with, although, one is understated or “snuck-in”. The first is that this whole issue of txting in the same room argument is overplayed and alarmist in nature. Just like the telephone, newer text based forms of communication are usually an extension of relationships that exist outside that realm. Today’s teens do not, usually, just sit in the same room and ignore that each other is physically there. There are instances of this happening, but friends didn’t always communicate when they were around each other 50 years ago either. They might read or doodle or just get lost in their own thoughts. The second point is “the ruin of speaking and spelling abilities”. This is an assumption that is commonly propagated and appeals to the alarmist nature of people. This is a moot point since we speak Western American English which is constantly evolving, but even so, it has nothing to do with what they learn. It’s like being bi-lingual.

How then can we, or will we, teach and pass on our understanding of such a personal experience with Jesus to a generation weaned on virtual reality and mechanical relationships?

I’m sorry, but the point is completely missed. A relationship with Jesus is more akin to “virtual relationship” than one including physical reality. I propose that they have an edge. They are used to maintaining a relationship outside of the physical realm. They are used to maintaining a connection with someone throughout the day, even when they don’t “see” them. Isn’t the continuous connection with God throughout the day something that we teach? Also, the sly association between virtual reality and mechanical relationships is misleading. Relationships existing completely outside the physical world are no less real. They may not be quite as fulfilling, but they are not mechanical or fake.

I completely and totally agree with the first two conclusions made at the end. It’s the third one that worries me. The first part is dead on. But the second part, “like those of us who walked away from various affinities and addictions to pursue a living relationship with Christ, they will too”, in this context is the same as saying, “I’m going to stop hanging out with my friends because I have Christ.” We live in a world where communication can now be had almost anytime and anywhere. This is a cultural shift. Just because it isn’t easy to understand or even seem “normal” doesn’t mean that it is a bad thing. Also, it can’t be fought. The only answer is to learn how to take advantage of it.

Just a side note, the editor decided to highlight the line “As a parish pastor, until now my biggest worry was teenagers texting during worship services.” If that truly is the biggest problem, that’s one lucky pastor.

Please leave comments and thoughts. I am really interested in dialoguing on this subject.


This entry was posted in regular. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to re: authentic relationships

  1. Stephen says:

    First… very well written. Wonderful in fact. Along with some excellent points.

    1. A relationship with Jesus is more like a virtual one than a physical one – duh… but I have never seen it put like that in this context… brilliant

    2. Yes, if this is the biggest problem she is one lucky pastor!

    Also, why do we (I am a pastor too) feel like we always have to fight culture? Like our calling is to make everyone like they were 20 years ago… it simply makes no sense. We are to take the gospel (good news) to all nations. Sure 140 characters at a time may be offensive to some, but if that is someone’s language, let’s use it. (btw – by the way – Matt 28.19 fits nicely as a tweet… add verse 20 in another if you want… hey, it’s like the whole Bible has been divided into tweet size portions, like that would help us make sense of it somehow!)

    Thank you Leo, you have said very eloquently what my mind has been thinking lately – the Time article is a good one.

    PS – there was a time the church did not want people printing the good news either… just a thought.

  2. Connie says:

    Great response Leo! I see great promise in twittering. Txtng has brought our family closer together. What a great way for the Pastor to get his “finger on the pulse” of his church family! What if you could ask the Pastor to explain a point they just made that you don’t understand, or ask them to talk about a subject that is relevant to what you are going through. Alot of people are too afraid to raise their hands and verbally respond in front of a crowd when asked a question. I know I am. The articles you supplied links to were very informative. We should be looking for ways to use technology to God’s glory, rather than be afraid of it! After all, it is He who is allowing knowledge to be increased!

  3. Grandma says:

    Well said, Leo. Although I don’t txt or tweet (I’m not even sure that’s the right word with my limited knowledge of Twitter) I say, use what works. Fighting it will get a person nowhere. Enjoyed the above comments also.

  4. Christy says:

    Very interesting, Leo. And we were partners in crime on many of those church bulletins. =0)

  5. Lynnette Yeo says:

    Just had a conversation about this with your mom 🙂
    Interesting topic. Definitely communicating electronically doesn’t rob “real” relationships for me. They are just another way of communicating with people I already have relationships with, and actually improve it by allowing me to communicate in real time, when the feelings and memories are fresh. This is exactly the way I communicate with God, immediately, whenever I want/need to. If you’re worried this won’t get printed because it’s too long, take another look at it and I’m sure you’ll see places where you can be more concise and less repetitive (though I see why you wanted to reiterate some points), because I really think readers and author will benefit from your response.

  6. Jerry Nelson says:

    Oh Leo,
    I set aside your article until I could have a quiet few minutes to give it my undistracted attention. I’m glad I did. Like the video you sent me to watch recently featuring Don Tapscott, my thinking was challenged regarding assumptions we can easily make about new technologies. I think you strike a good balance between acknowledging potential problems with communicating digitally and allaying fears based on false information and misconceptions. One of the real take away thoughts for me was when you said:

    A relationship with Jesus is more akin to “virtual relationship” than one including physical reality. I propose that they have an edge. They are used to maintaining a relationship outside of the physical realm. They are used to maintaining a connection with someone throughout the day, even when they don’t “see” them.”

    I also liked the scribbling on the bulletin vs. texting parallel. Great insight.

    The third take away idea was that texting generally is not diminishing the quality of relationships. I agree. However, for me personally, the challenge is that digital communication makes it easy to stay in touch with so many people (past high school buddies to church members, etc.) all while a week is still made up of 168 hours. I can spread myself so thin staying in touch with so many people that I don’t pay attention to the priority of investing my time in the most important relationships. When I was younger I often wouldn’t reply to letters but now with the ease of communicating digitally I almost always respond fairly quickly to written communication. The call for me is to make sure I monitor how I’m using my time and keep my time prioritiezed to keep first people first.

    Thanks for making me think. Now I’m going to go spend some time with my boys.

    By the way, I was hanging out with somebody yesterday over here in Visalia where I’m visiting that reminded me so much of you. Made me smile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *