1. On Our Own
What it is: Americans spent 38 percent less time with friends and family members this Thanksgiving than they did in years past, a stark example that the amount of hours we spend with other people has plummeted.
Why it’s a trend that pre-dates COVID: The so-called “loneliness epidemic” is actually not so new. As the Washington Post points out, time spent alone was already on an upward trend prior to 2020, going back to when smartphones first became commonplace. The average American now spends less than 10 hours per week in person with friends, even when the definition of a “friend” is expanded to include clients, co-workers, and neighbors. This remains just as true for teens (15 and older) as it does for older groups. Being alone isn’t always bad, and can be a part of intentional spiritual formation. But when spending all of our free time alone becomes the status quo, it’s worth wondering how normalized isolation is really serving us individually and as a society.
2. In Protest
What it is: University students were at the forefront of protests all over China this week over the CCP’s so-called “zero-COVID” policies.
Why it’s on young people’s minds: China’s Gen Z citizens were once known as the “lying flat” generation, choosing to do nothing as an act of resistance amid limited personal prospects and a complicated political landscape. But in the past few weeks, protestors have openly expressed their frustration with lockdowns. Smaller demonstrations in China happen regularly, but this time, they’re national. The most recent spate of protests were sparked after COVID restrictions appear to have kept firefighters from dealing with a fire in the region of Xinjiang. The fire ended up being fatal for ten people. American college students at Duke, Columbia, and UC Berkeley are among those protesting to show their solidarity. A media-savvy, global awareness underpins Gen Z’s approach to activism, and teens may be paying particular attention to what happens in China over the next few weeks.
3. “From Cool to Cringe”
What it is: Kate Lindsay writes for the Atlantic about the declining cultural capital of Meta’s once-ubiquitous photo-sharing app—otherwise known as Instagram.
Why teens are still signing on: Younger people might feel like they have to be on Instagram, but that doesn’t mean it’s where they want to be. When it comes to creating and sharing content, TikTok and Snapchat are the preferred social media channels for younger people. Instagram has 2 billion monthly active users, but many of these accounts are simply used to scroll through announcements and keep tabs on users’ favorite famous people. Plenty of people still engage with Instagram and find it to be a must-have app, teens included. But unless something shifts, it seems like the aging monolith’s destiny may be to act as little more than an archive of millennials’ breakfasts and kids.
Song of the Week
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey: at #5 on Billboard, #6 on Apple Music and #12 on Spotify, the 1994 Christmas classic has returned once again. As the Borg once said, “Resistance is futile.” The song is essentially the modern, secular version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s also a great example of how a song can become someone’s personal soundtrack. Who is the “you” the song refers to? It’s whoever the listener fills in with their own life story. Expect this song for the rest of the month, and every December for the rest of your entire life. For the lyrics, click here.
Translation: On Our Own
In January of this year, Tish Harrison Warren wrote a piece arguing that churches should drop their online services. She said, “Throughout the past two years, we have sought to balance the risk of disease with the good of being present, in person, with one another. And the cost of being apart from one another is steep. People need physical touch and interaction. We need to connect with other human beings through our bodies, through the ordinary vulnerability of looking into their eyes, hearing their voice, sharing their space, their smells, their presence.”
At the time, Warren was criticized as being insensitive to people with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems. But the heart of her message held an important truth: church is not simply about information and an experience to consume, but a community to invest in. Embodiment should matter to us as Christians because Jesus took on flesh, and entered into human society. Why wouldn’t following Jesus today mean being willing to do the same?
The so-called “virtualization” of church and the fact that Americans spent 38 percent less time with friends and family members on Thanksgiving are two manifestations of the same trend. Many of us are now much more comfortable being alone with our devices than we are being in the same room as other humans. And of course, being in the same room with other human beings can be inconvenient and awkward. We have to sacrifice our time and our comfort level to be “perceived” by others in real time. But if we don’t get up close and personal with other people, it seems certain that something is lost. The question is, is it something worth giving up?
Here are some questions to spark the conversation with your teens:
- How many hours a week do you think you spend in person with friends?
- Do you wish you spent more time in person with them or not really? Why?
- Do you think virtual church is a good thing? Why or why not?