It can feel like we live two lives.
In the church, that perspective typically associates with the Romans-7-I-wish-I-didn’t-do-the-things-I-do lesson. Today though, more Christians find themselves in a world where an online witness becomes just as important as flesh-and-blood interaction.
How Christians handle themselves on social media creeps into other areas, testifies Vicki Davis. A member of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany and teacher at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Davis writes extensively on technology and education at coolcatteacher.com. She also hosts a podcast, the Ten Minute Teacher, to discuss those issues with guests.
And while technology and social media are terms typically associated with students, does anyone doubt its impact on everyone regardless of age?
Digital readership of The Index
Even before Google Analytics, it wouldn’t be controversial to assume The Christian Index’s readership skewed older. When The Index went completely digital in January 2016, one would further assume those older readers would leave in droves.
That wasn’t the case. Analytics reveal that around half of Index readership since going digital consists of adults at least 55 years old. Also factor in that page views grew by 11 percent from 2016-2017, indicating more adults in retirement age spending more time online.
Social media brought mixed results. Those who Liked the Index on Facebook roughly matched website age demographics. However, that wasn’t the case on Twitter, as three-quarters of the total followers to The Index’s account split evenly in the 25 percent range for the 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54 age groups. Only 14 percent of Index Twitter followers were at least 55 years old.
Where ‘digital citizenship’ began
“The term ‘digital citizenship’ has been out there a long time,” Davis, who hosted a podcast on the topic in July 2016, told The Index. “It’s a huge issue.”
Indeed. According to a white paper by the Digital Citizenship Institute the term, in theory, took form in 2000. That’s when the International Society for Technology in Education created its original set of educational technology standards. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that a refreshed set of standards by the group included the phrase “digital citizenship.”
Various definitions abound, but digital citizenship typically refers to one’s interactions and relationships online. The complexity – as student ministers, parents, and pastors can testify – lies in managing a digital life responsibly while not allowing it to overtake how you interact with those you see more than just on a screen.
Davis recognized the growing influence of technology even before she was hired as a tech teacher in 2002. Unfortunately, her most significant lesson had come in the 90s through being the victim of an online attack where her identity was misrepresented. Local police and even the Georgia Bureau of Investigation eventually became involved.
It opened up her eyes, she testifies, to the importance of understanding technology.
And even with the number of devices at our fingertips, she stresses the most important computer everyone possesses.
The importance to educate
“I believe the greatest software ever developed is the human brain,” she says. “It’s so important to educate people on technology.”
She admits that passion has met with resistance at times. “Once I was teaching people how to use the Internet. A very angry lady came up to me and asked, ‘How can you be a Christian and teach people how to use the Internet?’
“My response was, ‘How can we not?’”
Safety, she asserts, remains the top priority when educating students on technology.
“It involves basic things like having a secure password. Understand the dangers of ‘oversharing.’ It can be an issue for Christian kids who are used to sharing a lot of their problems in youth group. Transparency is great, but students need to learn how to protect themselves. If they share online about having a lack of self-esteem or not being secure in their faith they can become the targets of predators.”
If not in a face-to-face setting like a small group of Bible study, Davis recommends something like a private Facebook group. “Being online brings in introverts who wouldn’t normally share verbally,” she points out. “They’re keyboard extroverts. Try and make places for kids to share in safe ways.”
Interaction at any level
Clay Thomas, pastor of students and families at Lost Mountain Baptist Church in Powder Springs, is quick to include himself in the need for digital accountability. Last November he was asked at a student ministers luncheon during the GBC annual meeting if, as a teenager, he would’ve been as ear-deep into his smartphone as his students.
“I’m sure I would’ve been right in the flow,” laughed the 34-year-old married father of three, “because I am now.”
The difference, he pointed out, is the wisdom that only comes with age.
“I’m older now and know the importance of using technology as positively as I can. It can be good in showing the love of Christ. But, it can also be a distraction.”
Thomas and his wife of ten years, Amanda, have small children. They both know, though, that the battles over appropriate technology usage are coming.
“We laugh about it, but pray we don’t go to a restaurant one day and we’re that family where everyone’s on their cell phones. We all need accountability.”
But in watching teenagers, he points out a need searched for whether in face-to-face interaction or “digital citizenship.”
“Teens – like all of us – are looking for acceptance. They often find that in the digital world.”