We are the Stars of a Brave, New Digital World

(C) Kapok Tree Diplomacy. Mar 2012. All rights reserved. Jeff Dwiggins. Free Content

forget-generation-y-18-to-34-year-olds-are-now-generation-c--b32ec78adcLike the morning fog that settles across San Francisco Bay, the technological haze that permeates our society is clearly palpable during my morning commute to the Pentagon. About 50 human ‘techno drones’ stare into their smart phones and various personal technology devices for nearly the entire 75 minute bus commute, relationally disconnected and seemingly oblivious to their fellow travelers or anything else for that matter. And who can blame them? They have a job to do. And so do I. We are stars of our own personal Truman Show, watching a version of real life unfold before our very eyes while thousands of online marketers, friends, employers, government agencies and total strangers curiously watch our every move.

            Of course, each individual Truman Show is just a little bit different. Exactly how are all of us spending our time online?  Simon Kemp of Social Media Today notes that the global online population of over two billion users spends 22% of their time social networking, 21% doing searches, 20% reading content, 19% reading emails or communication, 13% on multi-media sites, and 5% doing online shopping.[1]  Kemp says the average person in the U.S. spends 32 hours per month online including eight hours per month on Facebook alone.[2] Based on what I see every day, I think those numbers are extraordinarily low.

            Most of the people who sit next to me gravitate primarily between Facebook, email messages, silly YouTube videos, online games and porn – not exactly content that will help you become a better-rounded person, better educated, or more spiritually inclined. In a recent trip to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, I watched in amazement as a young father, probably in his late twenties, tried in vain to coax the mother into the water for over an hour to play with what was apparently their toddler son. She never budged off her iPhone. So much for paradise. I watch similar events play out at my son’s athletic events with moms and dads who rarely look up from their phones to watch their child play. Is Facebook and email really that important?

            The members of Generation Y and Z would probably shrug off my concerns like Cristof did with his critics in the Truman Show:  “I’ve given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.”[3]  I guess whichever world is ‘sick’ depends on your perspective. For many the real world is becoming increasingly more boring and passé without the necessary scripts and cue cards from all of our favorite marketers and social media sites. Or maybe the social media world is the real world? Hmmm.

           Regarding the 18-34 yr.-olds of Generation Y, Kate Freeman observes, “Two out of five said they “would feel anxious, like part of me is missing,” if they couldn’t use their smartphones to stay connected. One in four people in Gen Y say they check their smartphones so much throughout the day they lose count.”[4]  In other words, Gen Y is really distracted. So what about the next generation? Penelope Trunk explains that Generation Z (kids just turning 13) will be able to overcome some of the problems of Gen Y’s passivity and aversion to risk and leadership by being more comfortable with conflict and people, more leadership-oriented and pragmatic, better communicators and more grounded in reality vice fantasy.[5] I hope she’s right.

           Where does this leave us no matter what our age?  Like Truman, must we “accept the reality of the world with which we are presented,”[6] or is there any hope of transforming that world before it transforms us into technological zombies craving our next entertainment fix? Musing about the numerous ways we’ve all become exploitable commodities based on our digitally created “social graphs,” author Douglas Rushkoff declares, “In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software.”[7] Indeed.

           As Christians, I often wonder where we should fall along this complex web of social media interactions and digital networking. Are we using our personal technology tools in a positve way to build, create, relate, play or entertain … or is it the opposite? Do we lean towards one aspect or another? Have we become entertainment junkies?  In Matthew 11:16-17 Jesus warned about a lethargic and apathetic generation devoid of spiritual passion: “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament” (NKJV).  Sounds like a generation struggling with purpose and identity.

          For the record, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with listening to music, playing a game, watching a movie, or checking email. I frequently do those things. It’s good to relax and let off steam within reasonable boundaries. But when it becomes a 24/7 need to entertain ourselves, and we freak out because we haven’t checked our smart phone in the past 5 minutes, something may be out of kilter. So let me end with this poignant question. Just who are you, my friend? Just who am I?  Quite simply, we are the stars of this very real production. Now carry on my fellow actors and actresses. The world is watching.

Works Cited

Freeman, Kate. Why Smartphone-Obsessed Generation Y Can’t Put Down Their Phones. 12 December 2012. Web. 4 March 2013.

IMDb. The Truman Show (1998) – Memorable Quotes. 2013. Web. 4 March 2013.

Kemp, Simon. How People Spend Their Time Online [infographic]. 9 May 2012. Web. 4 March 2013.

Rushkoff, Douglas. CNN: Unlike – Why I’m Leaving Facebook. 25 February 2013. Web. 4 March 2013.

Trunk, Penelope. “How the next generation will surpass Gen Y.” 21 December 2012. Penelope Trunk blog. Web. 4 March 2013.


[1](Kemp)

[2](Kemp)

[3](IMDb)

[4](Freeman)

[5](Trunk)

[6](IMDb)

[7](Rushkoff)

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