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Millennials: why do they spend so much time on Facebook?

A young woman compares two smartphones, an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy, at a trade show (Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar)

As an American traveling abroad and trying to communicate across a language barrier have you ever felt the temptation to speak slowly and loudly as if that is going to help them understand your urgent request to find the nearest bathroom?  They look at you with that befuddled stare, shrug, smile, and walk away.  Why are we the ones that get frustrated?  We are immigrants in their native land yet we expect them to understand our language.

I am sure you have experienced the same frustration in dealing with younger adults and their apparent obsession with social media.  Have you attempted to have a conversation with them and they seem unable to lift their eyes from their iPad?  Or perhaps they roll their eyes when you ask them to put their phone down for a minute? This young “Millennium” generation was born after 1980.  Facebook and social media aren’t new or confusing technology to them.   They are “digital natives” and you are the “digital immigrant.”  For example, 89% of “millennials” use social networking sites, less than 40% of their parents and grandparents do.  On average a millennial spends nearly three hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.  While this may seem high, it is still less than the five hours a day the average older adult spends watching television!

It might seem as though this technology is causing us all to become less connected.   It might be that we need to redefine what connection means.  We are clearly in a new era of internet-enabled intimacy and digital engagement.  This phenomenon of digital engagement is distinct from previous generations that would have turned to family, friends, elders, and leaders in their community for many of life’s questions.

This emerging sociological and technological complexity for the teen and young adult generation makes the traditional processes of spiritual discipleship much more challenging.  And many attempts to continue adhering to the traditional methods of spiritual growth of even a generation ago contribute to driving this generation further away from spiritual awakening.

Today’s teens and young adults have access to new set of digital tools on the web and mobile devices that enable and encourage them to connect with and trust others like no previous generation has ever imagined. This generation struggles because the same technology designed to connect them results in their social isolation.  Rather than turn away from emerging technology, it must be embraced and explored as a tool for spiritual engagement with those seeking to learn more about God.

Here are some ideas that might help you take a fresh look at what it means to “connect” with someone born after 1980:

  • Interact directly and privately online.  Don’t simply view or “like” their status.  Respond and engage.  Millennials are often searching to find who they are and they are constantly expressing themselves and seeking feedback.  Give them feedback.
  • Nearly 30% of the traffic going across the Internet is video.  YouTube reaches more millennials every day than all other cable channels combined.  To reach them use video.  If you have an iPhone use FaceTime or send a video message.  Consider sending a short 6-second message on Vine.
  • Experiences are king!  A millennial is able to carry the entirety of human knowledge on a device in their purse or pocket.  Life is less about learning and more about experiencing.  Trying new things.  Sharing.  There is a new socio-economic system being built around the sharing of human and physical resources. This is not just an economic breakthrough. It is a cultural breakthrough. It is a radical next step for the person-to-person marketplace pioneered by eBay.  Millennials are hopping into strangers’ cars (Lyft, Uber), welcoming strangers into our spare rooms (Airbnb), dropping their dogs off at strangers’ houses (DogVacay, Rover), and eating food in a stranger’s dining room (Feastly).  And when they are not being used, millennials are letting strangers rent their cars (RelayRides), boats (Boatbound), houses (HomeAway), and even power tools (Zilok).   Experience some of these yourself and relish in the opportunity to engage with a strange millennial!

So do not be too worried.  Millennials are not ignoring you.  It is just that neither of you are speaking the same language.  So rather than speaking slowly and loudly, be intentional in providing feedback online, use video to connect, and find new digital ways of engaging and sharing new experiences.  They miss you.  You just need to find a new way to say hello.