Nearly half of millennials report that their personal electronics create distance between themselves and other people.
“We seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.” -Sherry Turkle, Alone Together
by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group
Today’s personal devices may be wireless, but digital users seem to be more tethered than ever. From computer to phone to tablet to television, Americans spend more time in front of a screen than ever and show no signs of slowing down.
The effects of this widespread digitalization of life, for better or worse, are widely debated. But there can be no doubt about one thing: the digital life is here to stay, and it is changing everything. Work, faith, relationships, the very contours of young adulthood—all of these and more are dramatically shaped by the realities of our screen age.
Barna Group’s latest study reveals three cultural trends emerging out of the “new normal” of digital life.
The Hyperlinked Life
Digital life connects—and disconnects—adults in life and faith.
In 2013, two images of Saint Peter’s Square captured the world’s attention. The first, taken in 2005, shows a crowd attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The second, taken in 2013 from an angle similar to the first photo, shows a crowd observing the election of Pope Francis—only this photo exhibits a particular glow. Nearly every person in the picture is holding up a digital screen to capture the event.
These images are emblematic of a larger cultural shift that has just begun. In the hyperlinked age, people now view life—from its smallest details to its monumental moments—through a digital lens. And through this lens, they experience faith as well.
In fact, there’s not much that adults today don’t experience through a digital lens. And while the benefits of technology are many—increased information, social connectivity and even communities and tools for spiritual growth, to name a few—the hyperlinked life also opens up new challenges.
Because the relationship to personal devices is so strong, it naturally affects personal relationships—for better and for worse. Social media, of course, lives up to its name. As Barna data show, more than one-third of adults (36%) stop whatever they’re doing to check their device when they get a new text or message. About the same number (35%) admit their personal electronics sometimes separates them from other people.
The hyperlinked life has its advantages and disadvantages for a life of faith, too. For all their hyper-connectivity, for example, only 21% of adults say they set aside time each day to connect with God.