Thursday, November 12, 2009

Digital Natives in a strange land

abridged version of an email I got the other day:

A new report, Life Support: Young people's needs in a digital age, looks at how digital communications have impacted on the psychological and neurological behaviour of young people – and the challenge this poses for agencies and organisations who aim to support them.

As part of it, 994 young people were surveyed about their attitude to the internet, and here's some of what they said:

  • 75% said that they couldn't live without the internet
  • 45% said that they felt happiest when online
  • 32% agreed with the statement: 'I can access all the information I need online, there is no need to speak to a real person about my problems'
  • Four in five (82%) said they had used the internet to look for advice and information for themselves and 60% had for other people
  • 37% said that they would use the internet to give advice to others on sensitive issues.
Of those surveyed, 76% said that the internet ensured their friends are available 'whenever they need them'.

According to the report, the internet does, and will increasingly, play a vital role in the full process of advice gathering and exploration for young people. In the survey responses, the internet is consistently rated alongside family and friends as a source of advice in stressful situations. For support on issues related to sex and drugs, it took precedence over all other forms of advice.

Anonymity was the single most important reason for 62% of young people seeking advice online rather than from other sources, while ease and speed of access to information were also cited by 56% and 53% of respondents respectively.

the report concludes: "For young people, the internet is part of the fabric of their world and does not exist in isolation from the physical world, rather it operates as a fully integrated element.
In the future, as access becomes ever more mobile, multi-platform, faster and with richer media – in other words ever on and everywhere – the need and demand for advice through the internet will become even more critical."

YouthNet Chief Executive, Fiona Dawe, said: "This timely report is an essential read for any youth policy maker, parent or teacher. The incredible speed in which communication methods are changing means that young people are trailblazing new ways to converse that many of my generation struggle to understand. With the huge number of unregulated and unmoderated websites, blogs, networks and groups that exist online, the need for a safe, trusted place has never been greater."

1. The anonymity thing is interesting - online 'confession'? Where in the Protestant churches is there the opportunity for anonymous advice, confession, exploration etc.? The flip side is that anonymity allows people to do things they'd not do in person, which makes temptation a bit more tempting, as there seems less chance of being caught. Anonymity makes the net both safer, and more dangerous.

2. I used to be a bit embarassed to ring up my mates on the one house phone with mum and dad listening from the next room. The net does make friends easier to contact, but I don't know if that makes us more selfish or less: are friends available when we need them, or are we available when our friends need us? Perhaps it comes down to what survey question you're asked.

3. The level of dependence is quite scary, but I guess every generation comes to depend on the gadgets it creates - the fridge, the TV, the car, the web. Strange that younger people both depend on the internet, but feel a sense of control when using it. Who's controlling who?

4. We're still working out how this changes the quality of relationships: Facebook and the rest allow breadth to replace depth, keeping in touch with dozens of people at the same time, compared to previous generations whose 'gang' size was limited by the nature of face t0 face communication. The fact that a sizeable number don't see the need for face to face communication at all is rather worrying. Can we really relate to other people properly through the medium of technology? Among the first signs of fracture in Genesis are the couple hiding from God as he walks in the garden: the avoidance of face to face relationships isn't a sign of health.

5. Big challenge to the church if it's going to engage with this age group: church stuff tends to be quite 'lumpy' - an hour or two in a specific place at a specific time. Modern communication and community is threaded through everything. How does the church for Digital Natives differ from what we're used to?

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