Blogs,  Vic Stanley

What Will They Become?

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

In an article in the New York Times titled “New Facebook App for Children Ignites Debate Among Families,” published December 4th, 2017 touches on the effects of technology aimed at children. The story centers on Facebook’s new app, called Messenger Kids, which targets children under the age of thirteen. The app is designed to allow children to message friends and relatives that have been authorized by the app’s parental controls. Facebook’s reps said that the app is meant “to provide a more controlled environment for the types of activity that were already occurring across smartphones and tablets among family members.”[1] In the article several opinions from parents and Silicon Valley executives are offered up to show the varying views on the topic of introducing kids to technology and social media at such a young age. The views can be summed up as either 1) It is good to get kids into technology at an early age under controlled conditions like Messenger Kids, or 2) We do not need to introduce more “screen time” into the lives of children.

The first question concerning all that is presented in this article is this: Are these attitudes and ideas congruent with a biblical worldview? The answer: Who knows… The so-called biblical worldview of today’s Christianity seems more concerned with appropriating and acquiescing to the culture in order to “reach” people or “meet them where they are at.” So it seems plausible to say that many in the mainstream of Christianity would be ok with the existence of technology and social media products that target young children. Any objection to it would more likely be grounded in sociological and psychological arguments about child development and socialization. This gets close to the point, yet still misses it because it fails to consider that nothing is neutral. Everything a person engages in or with, child or adult, shapes him or her, it crafts them into a certain type of person with certain understandings and beliefs. Technology and social media specifically are far from being exempt from this fact. Scripture indicates that the Christian’s thoughts, words, and actions should be directed toward Christ, always (Colossians 3:17). Children are especially supposed to be carefully instructed in the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:18-21; Ephesians 6:4).

Does social media instruct children in the ways of the Lord? Does it shape and build them into godly men and women? Does it provide them with biblical understandings of family, communication, and critical thinking? The answer to each of these is a resounding “NO.” Social media diminishes the definition and practice of friendship/family by reducing a friend to some person one interacts with online, even if the friend is someone known in real life, all memories and shared experiences are relived and revisited not through spending time together reflecting, but through filtered and edited pictures and videos. Communication is done through digital input into a machine with personal interaction stripped away and disregarded. Not only that, but there is no longer any responsibility borne for what is said in comments sections on social media sites. People say whatever they want to strangers no matter how rude, insulting, hurtful, evil, or vulgar. Critical thinking is not really necessary as social media allows a person to find a group of individuals that think the same as her and that won’t challenge her positions and beliefs. It allows people to exist in ideological vacuums. To introduce young children into this environment is to place them into a religion of sorts that shapes them into self-centered, over-sensitive, tolerant (meaning the very pluralistic ideology behind that word) people who possess a sort of polite nastiness. In short, they become mean and vicious people.

The article reveals something that is not new or shocking about our culture, something that is especially characteristic of the West. It reveals that we care little for what becomes of people as long as they consume in order to keep feeding the machine. The article points out this fact:

“If Messenger Kids proves popular, Facebook may reap many benefits. The company could see increased messaging activity and more engaged, regularly returning users, not to mention insights and data on how families interact on Messenger… the app collects registration details from parents such as children’s full names. It also collects the texts, audio and videos children send, as well as information about whom the child interacts with on the service, what features they use and how long the children use them.”[2]

This data is extremely valuable to advertisers and the companies whose products they advertise. It would behoove Christian parents to really consider the effect such technologies have on their children, and they must also consider what type of persons their children are being molded into through continual engagement with social media and its derivatives. Forgive my tone throughout this piece, but the far-reaching implications of this issue are very compelling to me. Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly are valuable on this topic, as well as Augusto Del Noce’s The Age of Secularization and The Crisis of Modernity.

 


[1] Mike Isaac and Natasha Singer, “New Facebook App for Children Ignites Debate Among Families,” The New York Times, December 4, 2017, sec. Technology, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/technology/facebook-messenger-kids.html.

[2] Isaac and Singer.

See Also “The Most Important Thinker We Don’t Know | Francis X. Maier.” First Things. Accessed February 5, 2018. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/01/the-most-important-thinker-we-dont-know.

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