When I started grade school, a sharpened pencil and lined paper were about all I needed. When I was in college, my dad got his first home computer, a Commodore Vic 20. In college, I took my grandpa’s manual typewriter which was soon replaced with a bulky IBM 360 computer. And now I’m typing these words on a MacBook Pro that is considered “old,” because I’ve been using it for six years.
It goes without saying that our modes of communication have drastically changed over the years as well. We went from letters to postcards to emails to text messages to tweets to emojis and to snapchat.
According to wired.com the average length of a movie scene has decreased from twelve seconds in 1930 to 2.5 seconds today. If you don’t believe it, just try watching an older movie and see how long your attention span lasts as the scenes change sloooooooowly.
Due to the constant connectivity through smartphones, a recent Microsoft study indicates that we have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Daniel Im writes, “Our attention span has decreased from twelve seconds to eight seconds since the mobile revolution began in the year 2000. If only we could hold our attention for another second or two, we could still claim to have the upper hand on the nine-second attention span of goldfish” (No Silver Bullets, 96).
What does this mean for the church? What does this mean for you? Well, first off, we don’t need to sound the alarm in a state of panic. I stopped in Target the other day and noticed that some of the hot recommended Christmas gifts are vinyl records and cassette tapes. I picked up a Walkman in amazement and wondered why anyone would want to go retro to that extent.
I’m not advocating for people to ditch their iPhones and go back to pencil and lined paper. But shorter attention spans may actually lead people to wonder what they’re missing, and they might yearn for more space and quiet to get back to the long-forgotten joy of having a good conversation.
The digital boom may also lead to another shift for our churches and lives. It may lead to a desire for fewer Facebook friends and more real friends. It may give us greater opportunities to disciple people the old-fashioned way: face to face. Instead of just hearing another sermon online or on a screen, there may be more people who actually want to know their spiritual leaders. Instead of being a number in a pew, more people might want to be someplace where “everybody knows your name” (Cheers).
I’m all for smartphones, Facebook, messaging, texting and tweeting, but not to where the digital overtakes the personal. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I predict that in the coming years the Church will have an incredible opportunity to share the Gospel with people who are hungry for what is missing in their lives . . . relationships.