Aldon Hynes's blog

Digital Competency

Recently, I’ve been getting into various discussions about the article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? by Jean M Twenge. Below is an email that I wrote to some of my coworkers about this subject.

As some of you may know, I’ve been published in the Journal of Group Analytics, and spoken at the American Group Psychotherapy Association, the Association of Internet Researchers, and at NACHC conferences about social media. I also speak each year with the Psych Post Docs about social media.

I have a very different view of the effects of digital communications and find the Atlantic article highly flawed.

I would start off by referring people to the article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants By Marc Prensky.

The article was written back in 2001 and has some significant flaws, particularly in too closely equating age with digital orientation, but it presents a key idea. We are at a unique time in human history where many of us, particularly older folks, have been brought up in a pre-digital or analog world. Many of us have learned to get by in a digital world, but we still keep many of our old analog ways. We are, in a sense digital immigrants. Others have been brought up in a digital world and are digital natives. Personally, I identify as a digital aborigine, but that’s a different topic.

It is worth noting this unique time is not without parallels. A good parallel was the years after the Guttenberg printing press. Back then, there was concern expressed about people who spent too much time reading. A famous novel from 1605 talks about a person who read too much, Don Quixote:

You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading books of chivalry with such ardour and avidity that he almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even the management of his property; and to such a pitch did his eagerness and infatuation go that he sold many an acre of tillageland to buy books of chivalry to read, and brought home as many of them as he could get.

It was part of the writing of the era when people talked about those who spend too much time reading, much like how people talk about those who spend too much time online today.

In health care, we are called to be culturally competent. I would suggest that the Twenge article is an example of cultural incompetence by a digital immigrant talking negatively about a culture not her own and that her conclusions are based on her biases.

Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing that teens today tend to communicate more via computer mediated communications than face to face? Some of this may reflect our biases. Personally, for many reasons, I’m glad to see our culture become less of an automobile dominated culture and teens being less eager to learn to drive. I’m also not sure that delayed sexual activity is such a bad thing.

The concern about depression and loneliness is a much more important issue, but I would ask if the author is confusing causes and effects. Are the people that are online most often lonely because they are online, or are they online because they are lonely? If it is the later, then perhaps online interaction is actually beneficial. There is a lot of research on how online interaction can be a gateway to help isolated people become less isolated, to help people develop social skills online that they can then use in face to face interaction. As an aside, some of my favorite work on this has related to people on the autism spectrum manage their communications more effectively and as a result develop better face to face skills.

I do find it interesting to note that the previous article by Ms Twenge in Atlantic is
Young People Are Happier Than They Used to Be: But mature adults aren’t faring as well.
Perhaps Smartphones haven’t destroyed a generation, perhaps they are helping save it.

Perhaps related to this, recently, the New York Time re-ran an article from 2012 about loneliness:
Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?

It seems as if there are some other more important issues to be addressed. Cyberbullying is an important issue that doesn’t really get proper consideration in the article. More importantly is the issue that teens today, as they are forming their identities, need to form identities in both the physical analog world and in the virtual digital world. It is much more difficult. At the same time, they do not have as many people to go to help them with their digital identities, because their elders are digital immigrants. We all need to become better at helping people whose lives are increasingly digital, without being judgmental about how much better things were when we were younger.

I hope you read the article in the Atlantic. I hope you read Prensky’s article, as well as the two articles about happiness and loneliness. Once you have read then, I hope you’ll go back and re-read Twenge’s article and ask yourself where the causes are, where the effects are, and how your biases about digital communications might be shaping you reactions.

I particularly encourage this for any behavioral health providers that are interested in what it might me to be digitally culturally competent.

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Religious News and the Decline of Christendom

This was the first week of the Religion and News Media course that I am taking at the Religious Freedom Center as part of my seminary education. We read from Readings on Religion as News, edited by Judith M. Buddenbaum and Debra L. Mason.

We started off reading a brief history of journalism in the United States and then read some of what was written in the press in the 1700s about the Small Pox vaccine from a religious perspective. I was interested to think about the discussions about vaccines back then and contrast it to discussions today about vaccines. I was disappointed to read about the opposition to the vaccine by Colonial Anglican clergy.

We also read two chapters from The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media edited by Diane Winston. Specifically, we read about the development of the religious news beat and organizations that supported it during the 1930s to 1960s. We also read about more recent religious bloggers and online coverage.

It has caused me to stop and look a little more closely at what is currently written about religion. The Public Religion Research Institute recently published its latest research,
America’s Changing Religious Identity
, with key findings like, “White Christians now account for fewer than half of the public” and “White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics”.

It is an idea that Steve Bannon suggested is driving the Catholic Bishops response to the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA: Catholics “need illegal aliens to fill the churches”.

Others have picked up a different angle. Mark Silk writes in Stop the presses! There’s a next generation for mainline Protestantism:

While mainline Protestantism continues to shed white adherents, it is doing a better job of keeping and/or attracting young white adults than either evangelicalism or Catholicism

This shouldn’t be so reassuring to mainline Protestant churches, but it is an important part of the conversation.

It should also be noted that the struggles of mainline Protestant churches is not just an American phenomenon. The Financial Times has a long piece about the Church of England’s fight to survive. We find similar writing in Canada, such as Religion in Decline – finding the reasons why.

Andrew Sullivan looks at this through a partisan lens in The Religious Right’s Suicidal Gay Obsession.

Perhaps some of this comes down to Matthew 25,

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Perhaps also, some of this comes back to the stories of individuals struggling through their own vulnerabilities as a sign of God’s enduring love for us. I’ve always like the phrase the Episcopalians use, “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.” I remember hearing a priest talk about how when Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, they recognized Him by His wounds. They knew Jesus by his brokenness, his vulnerability.

That priest has had her share of struggles, and a local New Hampshire paper just wrote about her in Monadnock Profile: Sharing faith is the Rev. Elsa Worth's mission.

As an Episcopalian, I identify as being part of “resurrection people”. There is a future for Christianity. There is a future for religious news writers. There is a future for my own journey and my own writing. I hope to get a clearer sense of that through the Religion and News Media course I am taking as well as the other courses I am and will be taking in seminary and what I am reading online. I hope you will come along with me.

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Rethinking the Purpose of a Seminary Education

Thursday, I got into a wide ranging discussion which drifted over to question of how we welcome people who are different from ourselves. I brought up the book Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, which is on my seminary reading list. It has been a very important book to me which I expect to come back to often. In our discussion, we spoke a little bit about praying for President Trump as well as for Steve Bannon. We moved on to talking about what we need to do to truly welcome homeless people into our churches. It was a great discussion, and at the end, a friend commented to me that I needed to keep in mind was that the reading list is not for me, but for the communities I am part of.

To a certain extent, I feel a little selfish in my seminary studies. It is something I am enjoying greatly and I could easily fall into the idea that I’m doing it for myself, and my relationship with God. Yet we live in communities. My studies are also for the communities I’m part of, and not just in some future time when I become ordained or find more regular opportunities to preach, but right now.

So now, my mind is spinning with ideas about writing blog posts I might write, conversations I might have, this semester, right now, about ideas I am encountering. It is balanced with thoughts about the amount of reading and writing I have to get done for my classes. We shall see how much makes it to this blog. Stay tuned.

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Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit - Starting Seminary Edition

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. A new month starts, and what a month. I am starting seminary and trying to fit my schedule around my new activities. I’ve shifted my start of the day from contemplative prayer to the online morning prayer at the seminary, and my evening Daily Examen to the online evening prayer. I’m still working out what I’ll be writing online and where I’ll be posting stuff. Some will be here in my blog, other writings will be in various sites related to my courses, some public, some private.

I’m looking at what my schedule is for doing class readings; there is a lot to read. For that matter, I’m still deciding if I should get physical text books, or read them online, and if I read them online, what software I should use.

But now, I need to eat breakfast, do more reading and a little social media activity. It will be interesting to see what this month brings.

Seminary Thoughts: What is acceptable?

This morning, I try to settle into a new pattern of being an online seminary student, a husband, father, and working full time. I read the online Morning Prayer that is shared by my classmates at CDSP as I start to connect with my community.

The opening verse is one of my favorites,

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my
redeemer. Psalm 19:14

It makes me think of a post I saw on Facebook yesterday,

just lost a friend over a post ,
unreal , doesn't anyone have thick skin ?

My Facebook friend has a coarse racism and misogynist streak in his posts, and I wondered if he lost the friend, not because lost friend had too thin a skin, but because my Facebook friend had too coarse a mouth. It felt to me like this Facebook friend was blaming the victim. All his other friends jumped in and called the lost friend all kinds of vile things. I decided that this was not a place to engage right now.

Another Facebook friend posted,

Apologies for the rant, but we just walked around our campground and witnessed a dad ripping into his wife and son. Yelling, swearing, pure short fuse anger issues. I don't know what happened earlier today, but I promise the most recent offense was incredibly mild, and dad's response was inappropriate. His wife was embarrassed that we heard, but nothing (at least in this scenario) was any ounce her fault. I was stuck explaining to my kid, again, how it's not right to treat ANYONE like that.

What is the role of media, whether it be social media or news media, in establishing social norms? How have our norms about acceptable speech shifted as a result of digital media?

For News and Religion class, I’ve been reading Readings on Religion as News, edited by Judith M. Buddenbaum and Debra L. Mason. The introduction talks about religion and journalism this way (page xvii)

from the Puritans to the Promise Keepers, religious people have left their mark on American culture and the continue to do so. And the press has been there, at every step along the way, spreading religious inspired beliefs and behaviors throughout the country and policing the boundary between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” forms of religiosity.

I think about the coverage in the news media of Houston, Hurricane Harvey, and Lakewood Church. I think of social media and how we share stories in acceptable or unacceptable ways.

In Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol Newsome, et al., there is a section on how we interpret the Bible and how interpretations shape us and shape other interpretations: (Page 34 of the Google Book version)

Regardless of the original intent of such passages, the history of their interpretation has included some very hurtful readings

The news media and social media can help us navigate the boundary between the “acceptable” and the “unacceptable”. It can also repeat hurtful interpretations and call us to challenge current understandings of what is acceptable in the Lord sight.

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