Today, I want to share with my beloved older generation of readers (of which I are one) the latest news on the cultural shift. I wish I could explain to you why today’s teenagers walk around with spiked hair in all the colors you might find on the Las Vegas Strip. But I can’t. I wish I could explain to you why some of these same teenagers walk around exposing half their underwear, the waistline of their pants resting somewhere around their knees. But I can’t do that, either.
Like many of you, I’ve been caught between two worlds. I was born in the age of outhouses, and I’ll die in one with motion sensor toilet flushers. It won’t be long before our grandchildren won’t believe toilets once came with handles instead of invisible beams to track our every movement.
I want to help you understand the world in which your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live. A new term, social media, has been coined to help describe it. Social media includes email, text messaging, Facebook, Google, Twitter and a host of other electronic methods of communication. Since the Industrial Age, our country hasn’t experienced such a huge and culture-transforming revolution. How big is social media? Let’s start with a couple of examples.
Twitter: A popular instant messaging system that lets a person send brief messages, up to 140 characters in length, to a list of followers. The message is called a tweet, and when someone passes it on, it is called a retweet. When Ashton Kutcher (movie/TV personality) or Britney Spears (singer) get on their phones and send out a tweet, that small message reaches more people than the entire population of Sweden, Panama, Ireland, Norway, Israel and Switzerland combined. One push of a cell phone button and a massive number of people instantly receive the stars’ thoughts.
During the night of the 2012 presidential election, 31 million tweets were sent. At the highest point of the evening, people were tweeting at the rate of 327,452 tweets per minute. When I was in the Army, I stood every day at mail call waiting for a letter that would have taken days and weeks to traverse the globe. Letter writing was an art, an eloquent way of communication. Because of the influx of social media, today’s young people are bombarded by thousands of sound bites. For this generation, the shorter the message, the better. That’s why Twitter only allows you to send 140 characters at a time.
Why is this electronic communication so important? Out of the 6 billion people on the planet, 4.8 billion have cell phones, compared to only 4.6 billion who have toothbrushes. More people want to talk on the phone than to keep their smiles shiny and bright.
Facebook: Most of you know about Facebook. But in case you haven’t discovered it, it’s an interactive social medium in which you can share almost anything you want. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world, behind only China and India. The average Facebook user communicates with 130 friends. Each week, 3.5 billion pieces of content are shared between these friends. In some parts of the world, those using Facebook account for one-half of all Internet use.
Let’s look at it another way. It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people. It took television only 13 years to reach that same amount, and the Internet hit the same number in just four years. It took Facebook less than a year to reach 200 million people. In less than nine months, Apple’s iPod app had one billion downloads.
So what does all that mean? We live in a world of accelerated change. Information that used to take years to disseminate now takes seconds. Your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren communicate much differently than you do. The saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” might be true, but if we want to communicate with the younger generation, we old dogs need to acquire some new skills.
What does this generation need more than almost anything else? The love of a senior adult. Do you remember the television show, “The Waltons?” Mom and Dad were law. They gave their seven children orders like, “Do your homework,” “Milk the cow” or “Chop the firewood.” But what were Grandma and Granddad? Grace-givers. They spoke unconditional love into their grandchildren. You could say the Walton grandparents looked a lot like . . . Jesus.
Tweets, Twitter and Facebook will all come and go, but the love of a grandparent takes more than a 140 character message to explain. “Above all, love each other deeply” (1 Peter 4:8a).