Digital natives have slightly different values than previous generations. The old saying “time equals money” is so true for digital natives that many of them just take money out of the equation altogether. Time is just what is valuable. Spending time with friends and loved ones (both online and in real life), choosing experiences over physical goods, and by choosing what is worth spending significant amounts of their time online.
Part of this is because of a reduced attention span. With so much competing for attention online, digital natives (and all those who spend a significant amount of time online) are notorious for having short attention spans. But it is also because having the whole world at your fingertips means not wasting time on any one thing for too long. There are obvious pros and cons to this. The upside is that, we are being forced to be more concise. Twitter limits your posts to 280 characters. To be able to say something complex in so short a space means you have to truly understand it. The downside means that for many it is easier to just name call or mock opposing ideas rather than engage meaningfully. And most worryingly is that the dramatic effect on attention span means that the spiritual discipline of prayer and meditation is more challenging and difficult than ever.
But the real currency of the internet is “engagement.” Engagement is any interaction with online content. Whether you “like” a facebook post, share a blog post, forward an email, click a button, or “retweet” a tweet. All of this is engaging with content. Simply reading this article is just passively consuming it in the same way that plopping down on the couch and zoning out in front of the tv is passive consumption. Engagement is valuable to digital natives for several reasons. This is also why fake reviews, fake followers, etc are so frustrating. It is as valuable as counterfeit money. No one wants to be tricked by fake followers or caught with the counterfeit bills.
The first reason from a business standpoint is that it is part of how businesses measure their return on investment. If you see an ad and do nothing about it, then that ad was a waste of money. But if you are interested enough in the ad to engage in some way, that has some value. The other side of that is that content that has a lot of engagement is ranked higher by Google and Facebook. Clicking on a link means that you are more likely to see similar content later on and that original link will be ranked slightly higher for other visitors as well. Google and Facebook assume that since this article is getting a lot of engagement that it serves people’s’ interests. Amazon even does this when you search for products on their site.
But the real currency of the internet is engagement.
First, be intentional about spiritual disciplines. Most of us aren’t totally aware of how much our own attention span has shrunk. Fortunately your attention span can be increased through intentional self discipline. And one of the best ways to do this is through prayer and meditation. This is so widely acknowledged even by secular viewpoints that self care and meditation is now big business. What does this spiritual discipline (also known as spiritual formation) look like from a practical standpoint? It looks like your devotions. Read your morning (or whatever time) devotions, choose a verse or concept from your devotions and then spend 15 – 30 minutes meditating on that. Christian meditation doesn’t mean emptying your mind and thinking of nothing. Nor does it involve mystical chanting or anything like that. It means thinking about that concept or verse and ONLY that concept or verse for that entire time. For a digital native with no practice, 15 minutes is nearly impossible to do without getting distracted. But with regular practice and effort, any of us can fix our minds on God for 30 minutes or more at a time. Still not convinced about Biblical meditation? Here 20 great verses about keeping your minds steadfastly on God.
Be wise and intentional in how you engage with content online. Your engagement has real physical value for people and businesses. Any action you take online, clicking something, commenting, sharing, etc is likely to promote that content. Even if you are arguing against it, angry, or debating them. The old saying “all publicity is good publicity” is true online. Digital natives are extremely aware of this and genuinely value engagement. If you want to be a positive influence in someone’s life, seek out their content and engage! If you are both on a social media platform, check in on them regularly and leave a caring comment. This is the digital native equivalent of sending them a note in the mail. Just as meaningful and just as appreciated. Send them an email or a text and be thoughtful. For many digital natives, this is a generous act.
For your church, sharing and commenting on Facebook posts literally means dozens or even hundreds more people will see that post because of you. This means that the church has a responsibility to create good content, but you get to play a part in encouraging their best by engaging with their best! Sharing newsletters, reviewing your church online, and especially adding a link to your church on your own website or blog are all useful ways to promote your church. It is the digital equivalent of adding an extra lane to the road that goes by the front door. The more traffic that drives by, the more likely people are to stop in and check it out.