Sunday, March 14, 2010

Digital Immigrants vs. Digital Natives

I've got some stuff going on that has me thinking about this distinction. I really don't like talk about generational differences and find most things people say about them to be unreasonable generalizations. That said, at least right now I'm feeling like there is an enormous gulf between people who take as a matter of course that, say, Old Navy would allow customers to post negative reviews of Old Navy products on Old Navy's website and people whom I don't think could comprehend something like that or how it could possibly be a good idea for Old Navy since obviously anything that is in public should have its message carefully controlled and optimized.

This is more than a generation gap (and indeed, I know young digital immigrants and older digital natives), though it is at times tempting to think of it as institutions being afraid to do something that will speak to young people because they are so afraid of offending old people. That's an oversimplification of the issues, though. I think the Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives fundamentally view information and the sharing of it differently, perhaps to the point that they are speaking different languages when they talk to each other about that topic.

And I don't know what to do about it. That video about social media that everyone's passing around has a few facts I find a little questionable, but the overall message is, I think, pretty inarguable.

This is something every institution is facing, but I think the challenges as far as UUism is concerned are specifically interesting because the contrast seems especially dramatic with UUs given that we talk a lot about freedom. For example, board members often like to be conservative about things like information, yet Digital Natives tend to view information, and lots of it, as crucial to the functioning of the Democratic principles that UUism preaches.

Do you see this issue as one your church is facing? How are y'all dealing with it? How should we approach it as a denomination? Will ignoring it be one more thing that convinces people my age and younger that UUism (or protestantism or Catholicism or Judaism) has nothing for them except RE?

Or is this a totally false dichotomy and am I worried over nothing? I would actually really love it if you could convince me that I'm wrong and that the transition will be smooth and this stuff is no big deal. But I don't think I am wrong.

who, obviously, gets that there will be sampling bias given her audience.

EDIT: A smart person I know read this and mentioned (on Facebook *swoon*) that there is a third category, the "Digital Babushka," who fears technology and doesn't care to learn it no matter how useful they are told it can be. She was too kind to directly say that I was effectively lumping the Babushkas in with the immigrants and judging the immigrants on the Babushkas, but I do think I did that and am rethinking where *that* line should be drawn. Suffice to say, I get that there are a lot of people of the "digital immigrant" generation who really do adapt to technology well, indeed, some of them may comment on Old Navy when they get a sweater they don't like and I had a "google race" with one of them last night.*

At the same time, theCSO works with a major publisher of peer reviewed academic journals and he sees a huge gulf between those journal editors who insist on paper publication of the journal no matter what and those who saw that paper publication was expensive, online journals can update and correct efficiently and everybody reads academic journal articles pretty much exclusively online anyway and simply made the change. I hope we as a faith, and as a culture, can be wise enough to see when taking a new opportunity is the reasonable thing to do and just go with it. I think it is harder for Digital Immigrants to put aside something, be it a paper journal or a press release, that is no longer the best option than it is for a Digital Native. But though I side with the Digital Natives and am one, if barely, simply by nature of when I was born**, I don't see the change as 100 percent positive in all circumstances and I can certainly see that Digital Immigrants have a crap job in that they are expected to keep the Natives and the Babuskas happy, a task that may be impossible. That said, I do ultimately side with the Natives in that this revolution is going to happen whether we want it to or not though, and I'd rather the institutions that I like ride the wave than get swept under to placate the Babuskas.

Obviously, this post and my opinions on the matter are works in progress.

*Where two people are talking and realize neither of them know something, so they race to see who can find the information by Googling from their cell phone first. My friends are a nerdy bunch.

**I do think I was born on third base, I don't think I hit a triple.


Cubit said...

Can you define for me "digital immigrant" vs. "digital natives?" I find that your definition would be helpful in my understanding and contemplating this issue. Thanks.

Chalicechick said...

Good question. I like wikipedia's explanation because it goes into some of the criticisms people have of looking at things this way:

Here's the link. That said, I think the critics are oversimplifying in that they seem to assume nobody who immigrates ever fits into the new culture and no native ever fails to fit into their own culture.

Of course, all "there are two kinds of people" theories oversimplify in themselves.

The Dancin' Hippie said...

There may well be a divide between these camps, but I don't see it as an issue unless you expect whole congregations to adopt social media at the rates of the social media sites.

My UU church has a facebook page and it gets traffic. I've also noticed that as soon as I put UU in my profile I started to get targeted add from another UU church in town (I go to First Unitarian and I got add from First Universalist). Our pastor posts his sermons to his blog and to the church web (text only, I really need to talk with him about podcasts). So the churches in my area are starting to use social media and I expect it to grow.

That said, some may not come on board and that's probably fine. Having spent the past 14 years working from my home office attached to offices hundreds of miles away and having many of my social communications be over wires, I need the physical contacts found in the meeting house and I don't think church over facebook would do it for me. But then, I do like the virtual conversations that I engage in on fb and blogs, too.

Chalicechick said...

I should emphasize that "church over facebook" certainly isn't the plan. That said, I do think facebook has immense potential to connect people in a way that make some parts of church more meaningful. (E.g. I've gotten to know some people I go to church with better and seen conversations both begun and continued on FB. A good sermon sometimes starts little conversations, etc.)


Anonymous said...

I shared this on Facebook & the verification words were "Under vocation." Struck me as funny.

kimc said...

I'm resisting the whole computer thing, so I guess I must be a babushka, except that I have, according to testing, some talent in the area. And I use the damn thing all the time.
As to Facebook -- where are the interesting conversations? I have completely missed them. All I've seen has been very dull. Except we track our teens on it, and it gives us some hints as to what they are up to.

Chalicechick said...


I don't see anybody who has been reading blogs and message boards as long as you have as a babuska.

Well, my buddies from church and I tend to have interesting little discussions. Are you friends with lots of members of your church? If so, why not make your status "liked the sermon but wondered about (whatever)" and see if anyone responds?


The Dancin' Hippie said...

But what does a social media integrated congregation mean? What aspects of church life would work in social media? I think back to your original example of the Old Navy sweater and wonder what that type of thing would mean. Would we post sermons and invite comments to them?

Would a new role for pastors be to follow the tweets of members to get feedback the way a marketing departments follow some tweets. I grew up as the son of a pastor and the time I had with my dad was limited enough as it was with him off at meetings and weddings and funerals all the time. How much time would I have had with him if he had to follow fb and twitter all the time in addition to these other traditional roles. Would my current church have to hire a third pastor just to minister to the tweets?

How would any of this make young adults feel there is anything other than RE? I feel I'm sounding a bit like a luddite here, but other than posting happenings and perhaps allowing comments to sermon posts, I'm not sure what if left for social media in church life. At our church we have small group ministries aka chalice circles, so I suppose you could have a virtual chalice circle, but that doesn't sound fulfilling to me in the same way as a small group meeting during the week.

I'm certainly out of the age group that Wikipedia defines for the natives, but I've also been one of those pioneers who built the technology that the natives live with, so I don't feel like I'm out of the loop, but perhaps I am. I'd really like to hear your thoughts on what the social media integrated church would look like and how it would help retain the youth.

The Dancin' Hippie said...

One more question for you CC, and one that you probably have great insight to given your career path: who owns the ip to a sermon given in the church? With tax law, pastors are considered self employed regarding payroll taxes, so some might pastors might consider that they own the ip to their sermons. But even so, the church is hiring/contracting with the pastor to provide services and work products, so you could argue that the ip remains with the church, at least in a congregational based church. Do congregations need to add ip clauses to the contracts with their pastors? To a certain extent, this goes to the issue of control in social media both for the pastor and for the congregation. If the pastor posts his sermon to a blog on blogger, they are releasing copyright to the blog site, but if the church owns the ip, do they have the right do release it without the consent of the church?

Chalicechick said...

Your first question deserves a post of its own and I am thinking about it and working on it.

As for your second question,
the simple answer is that my guess is that the minister retaining ownership of his/her work is in his or her contract.

Were it not in a contract and were this to come to an actual dispute, questions about the ownership of this sort of work tends to depend on a variety of factors including the use of an employer's equipment to do the job (like a scientist who makes discoveries in an employer's lab) and the amount of direction you take in what you are creating, e.g. if you are writing a curriculem for an RE class, you're probably following a very strict set of guidelines and doing it to the satisfaction of a boss (like I did when I was a reporter.) Things like that are generally taken as signs that one isn't really expecting to own one's work.

A minister may or may not use a church computer, but that's not really the sort of equipment I meant. And sermons really aren't written under the direction of anybody. My guess is that in an actual case, the minister would prevail pretty easily.

All that said, these issues are pretty much non-existant at least in UUism. It seems to be common practice to leave an ex-minister's sermons on the church website for awhile and nobody seems to care. I cannot find the link, but I remember when a small church somewhere just took an award-winning sermon of Peacebang's off the web and somebody read it in church one Sunday. She found out and while she wasn't happy (it had been a very personal sermon about her relationship with her dad, a stranger reading it to a congregation must have been upsetting for her) I don't recall that she even considered it a legal issue. Her reaction was more hurt than anything else.

That there are only so many ways to express some ideas seems to be tacitly understood. If I had to write a Stewardship Sunday sermon for every year of a forty year preaching career, I don't know how I'd manage to not plagarize MYSELF to say nothing of other people.


Chalicechick said...

*Ahem* I'm not a lawyer. No, seriously, I'm not.

I know we all know this, I just feel safer saying that when I write something like this.