Embrace Technology. Embrace the Young.
“Embrace digital technology,” I typed into my Google search bar. Suddenly, I was face to face with a never-ending list of writers advocating for the digital revolution in business. Yes, there was an occasional entry on the importance of emerging tech in education. But by and large, the dialogue about embracing tech was largely about corporations. That seemed reasonable to me at first, but the more I thought about it, a question kept nagging me: “Where is the dialogue about embracing digital where it matters most? In our personal lives? With our families and friends? In our churches and communities?”
Perhaps we think we’ve already had that conversation. All of us are trying to embrace digital in real life aren’t we? But our digital experiences have led many of us to feel compelled to talk about limiting usage, showing restraint in online interactions, and not abdicating our lives to the posts and feeds that so easily overwhelm us. We think that’s a very important conversation. Isolation, declining social and communicational skills, severe lack of empathy, and so on—the kinds of challenges associated with tech—are ignored at our peril. But there seems to be a more fundamental question worth asking: Will cutting back on digital solve these problems? Not likely. Because for a certain group of users, cutting back on tech simply isn’t an option.
One reason our society is burdened by tech is that we’ve left the digital discovery process to the young. Here’s a scenario to illustrate: a new technology is introduced. Older, more mature people (from 25 to 95) hold back and watch—either because they don’t have time, lack desire, or fear being exposed as out-of-sync—while the younger generation embraces the new technology along with the values and practices that accompany it. Soon, from the outside looking in, the older population is surprised to recognize that these new-found habits may bring negative consequences down the line.
Should we be surprised? Clearly, young adopters aren’t in a position to lead us toward a more thoughtful approach to technology. We weren’t ready to do that when we were their age! However, we also shouldn’t be surprised that youth often distance themselves from us when we try to give them tech advice. While we were pushing ahead with life (often feeling too busy to adopt), they got fully engaged, and our comments can feel a bit like we’re pointing out problems from a distance. That, more than our technological differences, creates the generation gap.
More Digital. Not Less.
But the gap is here. So how do we reach across it? I believe what we really need is moreresponsible, mature people who are willing to embrace digital as a way of embracing the young.
“But Ross…,” you might be thinking, “I’m busy. I don’t have time to get more engaged with technology.” I get that. I often feel the same way. What I’m proposing is not that we spend more time with digital, but that we use the time we’re already spending in a different, more purposeful way. This means being more thoughtful and perceptive in our digital interactions. It means being more careful in considering what we do and what we don’t do. For me, it means using tech time wisely by bringing my experience and insight to a more focused, deliberate exploration of how digital products can improve life—my own life and the lives of those I care about. In other words, it’s not just about getting engaged; it’s getting mindfully engaged.
All that said, my interest here is not, primarily, to advocate what we should do. I’m much more interested in the “why.” Because really, my invitation to engage more mindfully with digital isn’t about us at all. It’s about a group of people we love and care about even more than our own selves: the young among us – our kids, grandkids, friends, and neighbors.
Embrace the Young
For that youngest generation – some people call them “Generation Z,” – the world has never not been digital. So naturally, their perspective is different than ours. For them, digital is more than an optional means of communication. It is central to every aspect of their world, and therefore they, and we, can expect the future to be ever more digitally driven. So, no matter how much time, energy, or breath we spend trying to discourage it or reign it in, it’s here. It’s not going away. The choice is whether to embrace it or not, If we do, we may be able to positively influence the tide of history for our kids and generations after them.
It’s for their sake that the more experienced (hopefully wiser) generation, should lead the way in finding mindful ways to use technology for good. It’s that generation that knows what will be lost if real life is swept away by digital life. It’s in that context that we have a reason to actively seek out tech’s latest developments, try them in real life, and there, on the cutting edge of our personal experience, show the way for the rest of the world to follow.
With that rationale in mind, I invite you to consider becoming a leader (even if only in your own family) who thoughtfully chooses from among the tech tools available, learns how to effectively manage them, and then helps the younger generation use them to lift and bless this world and the people in it. That’s what embracing digital is really about. It’s about embracing the rising generation, carrying them on our shoulders, and helping them prepare themselves to build a better future for this world.