July 18, 2024

In this episode, Kurt speaks with Art Bamford on traversing the difficulties of social media and the internet.

Listen to “Episode 125: Navigating Our Digital World” on Spreaker.



Kurt: Well a good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Very nice to be with you here, Episode 125. We’re going to be talking about traversing the difficulties of social media and the internet, especially if you have children and you’re wondering about how you’re able to manage those expectations, some practical tips to do so, but also if you’re someone like me who works on the internet, what are some good practical advice or how can we apply some of the things we find and apply it to our own lives perhaps. I’m sure, at the end of the day when we’re on death’s door, we’re not wondering “Gee. I’m wishing I spent more time on Facebook.” There are probably we wish we spent more time doing and so having a bit of self-control and reining things in is probably helpful toward our longtime joy and virtue in our life, but before we get into that, just a couple announcements.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to last week’s episode yet, The Last Call For Liberty, it was a wonderful interview with Os Guinness and I’ve got his book here still on my desk. It was an awesome interview. We asked all sorts of great questions. He’s just an amazing subject to interview to learn more about his work, his writings, and his life, and we actually have a winner from the giveaway last week. It’s Joe Vasquez. Joe. We’ve messaged you. We hope to hear from you. Thank you for sharing the video and commenting and engaging with us last week. This week our guest is Art Bamford. He’s a senior fellow at the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture, at the University of Colorado – Boulder or Colorado University, I forget which one it is. Art will correct us shortly. He’s got a Bachelor’s Degree from Calvin College and a Master’s of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and actually he and I grew up at the same church, Christ Church of Oakbrook, although I don’t recall we had overlap all that bunch, but I think he may have with some of my older siblings. Art. Thank you so much for joining us on our program today.

Art: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Kurt: Yeah. Before I forget, I’ll try to do this a couple times. You are the co-author of this recent publication, Every Parent’s Guide To Navigating Our Digital World. It’s put out by the Fuller Youth Institute. Tell us before we jump into our interview about the Fuller Youth Institute.

Art: It’s kind of a research center, research institute, that’s connected to Fuller Seminary and primarily they do a lot of stuff that’s for youth ministry people, youth pastors, a lot of different resources for that, and also some parenting stuff which is what this book ended up being more on the parents’ side, but fulleryouthinstitute.org. They’ve got a few blogs stuff like that. I’ve written a bunch of blogs for them and I still try to do that when I can.

Kurt: Sure. Give me a little bit of background to your interest in media studies.

Art: Yeah. It goes way back I would say. My grandpa was a pastor and he was always interested in media and communication so I think a lot of that kind of rubbed off on me. I studied it in undergrad and worked my PR in marketing awhile after college and then went back, actually originally did a Master’s that was in media and communication and then kind of did a pivot to seminary after that. Now I’m in the program I’m in at CU which is University of Colorado — Boulder, but they call it CU for short and I think cause it’s just the California schools are UC, so they actually are one of the few schools that has kind of specializes in media and religion and specifically so I can combine those two interests which has been great.

Kurt: Yes. You mentioned your grandfather, you’re speaking of Arthur[NP1] , he is the founding pastor of Christ Church of Oakbrook. I remember when I was a young boy I would, as any young child might do, when it was time for the sermon, I took a nap. I have good memories of hearing your father’s voice. I was probably 5 or 6, but a lot of good fond memories of those days back at Christ Church.

Art: I used to have trouble staying awake and all throughout seminary and I used to joke that’s what happened if you sleep through church as a kid. Someday you end up having to go to seminary.

Kurt: Yeah. You’ve got to relearn all that stuff.

Art: Yeah. 

Kurt: You mentioned briefly about how the book itself is the product of research and efforts from the Fuller Youth Institute. What was the interest there in looking at social media and the internet and especially being able to help parents with practical tips and advice and reasons why their children might be behaving a certain way? Tell me the story behind that.

Art: Yeah. It was actually really interesting because when I did my Master’s it was my advisor was Lynn Schofield Clark and she’s done a lot of stuff on parenting and families and how they deal with media, kind of in the home, and I was her research assistant for that but my own research was on something totally different. When I got to Fuller I wasn’t terribly interested in working with Fuller Youth Institute, because I didn’t have any youth ministry back home, and a lot of my classmates did and so I thought they’re not going to work with a guy like me, that type of thing, and a friend of mine worked for FYI and at one point they asked him to write a blog about social media or something and he was struggling with it and started talking to me and I said “You could borrow Lynn’s book” and then he ended up telling me that they were going to post something, this was on a Friday that we were talking and he said they’re posting something Monday that they’re looking to hire someone to work specifically on social media, digital media questions, cause they were getting tons of questions from youth pastors and parents that were on that topic so I ended up getting that gig and yeah, they just had a lot of people that were reaching out with questions and what I love about FYI, one of their mantras is they turn research into resources so really just taking the best contemporary research and then translating it into something that’s more useful for people. It was cool because I had been a research assistant with Lynn for three years, but it felt like I was just taking a lot of that work and that research that I had done and then just sort of explaining it in plain English so that parents and youth pastors could actually get something from it.

Kurt: That’s definitely an excellent mission to take the facts and to  be able to apply it. I know being in academia, some people frequently ask me, and especially my uncle who’s a pastor, he says, “What does your research have to do, how are you going to help people in the church?” Then I have to explain how it’s all connected and that there is application, but yeah. That’s part of the college because if we’re not doing that, if we’re just doing this high level stuff and the research, but what good is it if we’re not helping to people to use what they know to better for their situations to live more fulfilling, flourishing lives. Let’s jump in and the way that the book is laid out is you’ve got questions for each chapter. What I really like, and I don’t do this with most of the books that we receive because of just time’s sake. For starters, the book is, you see how thin it is, and that’s an advantage. That means it’s very accessible. You can sit down and read it. I actually read halfway through the book, like reading reading, and it’s great to hear the testimonies and the interviews that you did and so you’ve got this questions. You’ve really geared this towards parents that are in a state of what do I do, my kids on their phones so many hours a day, how can I set up structures, or for maybe for parents with kids about to enter that stage and what should I do and what should the expectations be. You set it up very nicely with these questions. Let me just start you off here asking about the first chapter and about managing those expectations. Why is it important to realize what are the goals that a parent might have when they’re beginning to set the boundary rules?

Art: Yeah. I’m trying to remember if this is the first chapter or the second chapter, but I do know one of the big things we wanted to address was this idea of screen time, because that’s used so commonly by parents and it’s in a lot of the parenting literature that’s out there and it really, what a lot of researchers have kind of identified with that, is it’s kind of a carryover to some extent from the stuff that older adults heard their parents talk about with television. With television, it’s very clear cut, you’re going to watch, I remember growing up I could watch Saturday Night Live up through the first sketch and then I had to go bed so I wouldn’t sleep through church the next day. You watch an hour after school. You watch a thirty minute show. It’s very clear cut. This is what screen time looks like. One of the things we try to get parents to talk about a little bit is it’s just not that clear cut with digital media. When you start trying to count the minutes, count the hours with screen time, it just drives you nuts. Some of it too is like homework. With high school kids, a lot of their homework is online or they’re using the internet to do it. That was the other part. It’s not all entertainment. There’s all these different ways that they’re using it, kind of trying to get parents to think about that. What we talk about is creating rituals and routines because that’s one of the big differences between older types of media like TV, film, and radio, vs. digital is that with the older stuff, there was a very intuitive sense of there was a schedule and there’s the 10 o’clock news. It’s very kind of ritualistic, by virtue of kind of the media itself and with digital that’s totally out the window. Instead of being kind of, we’re going to count the screen time, just think about rituals, routines, and those change throughout life. Your bedtime might get later as you get older and in the same way your screen time might change as you get older and theoretically more responsible.

Kurt: You talk about and I can’t remember if you use this terminology, but I think of it and how it applies, sort of a sacred space that this is a room, like the family room. If you’re in the family room and there’s the TV which was the place of entertainment for us. Smartphones, that changes everything, but there’s this sacred space and I recall reading one story where the parent had their child place the phone a desk or table in that room so they couldn’t be on it while they were sitting on the couch or something like that and so setting up those boundaries, not just time, but space boundaries, can really be beneficial toward that family atmosphere that people are trying to cultivate. Having smartphones has really changed the entire game because you go from what we grew up with, you had these designated areas, the rooms, the TV was in one room. You write about newspapers stayed in one area, if it was a kitchen area or something like that and people wouldn’t take their newspapers up to their bedroom to read. There was this designated area, but with smartphones we’ve got all this stuff now at our fingertips in our pockets and it goes with us wherever we want. It creates this new challenge for us and for some parents, this challenge happens maybe unexpectedly, like it came out of left field. I see here, I’ve got some quotes up here from the book. You guys must have done various sorts of interviews with countless people in order to get this information, but these are interviews with children. You just give their children and their age. Some of the things that they saw when they were online and I’m not sure if this was just on a computer or on a phone. Here’s what some of these children said. They said that one of the things that might have experienced is of a proposition to meet a person that they don’t know and that’s from a boy aged 12. Girl aged 10: One time I was looking for a game and rude pictures came on the computer, people without clothes on. That’s a ten year-old girl. Ten year-old boy. He’d get up pop-up things where you’d have to buy something and that’s something that he didn’t really like. For some parents, they might not be prepared. This might happen unexpectedly. It’s a very young age. You mentioned social media sort of has an age limit from which a person can create a user account, 13 I think was the age.

Art: Supposed to be 13.

Kurt: Supposed to be 13. Right. Yeah. 

Art[NP2] :  for the kid, then the rules are out the window. It’s not a strictly regulated type of thing. It’s up to the parents to kind of stick to that.

Kurt: Right. Of course, if a kid really wanted to get on they could lie about the year they were born. This is uncharted territory and we’ve been here for a few years at least now with even the development of smartphones and cooler social media apps like Snapchat. I remember when Snapchat got started. It kind of went up, but then it got a little lame, but then the younger folks started using and it just started growing and growing and growing. So for parents, they’re surprised and they don’t know what to do. Again, I’ve usually thought maybe I got to figure out how this might apply to me as well, some of your findings and discoveries. For parents, what are some of these things they should be looking for, let’s say that they’ve got an 11 year-old kid who’s asking for a smartphone. What are some questions they need to ask themselves about should they get them just a regular phone, a flip phone, a smartphone, and what are some boundaries they should employ? What were some of your findings that you discovered for people that have been through this process?

Art: Yeah. The quotes that you read from the kids actually reminded me, one of the interest things is that some of those same kids won’t talk with their parents about some of that stuff so they encounter things that make them uncomfortable or confused or whatever online, but they know their parents are anxious about them having a device in the first place. They know that there’s this chance that it’s going to get them in trouble or worst case scenario, the parents will take the device away from the kid, so that’s one of the things we talk about is just making sure that if the kid’s bringing you something like that and saying look at what I’m seeing or whatever, the kid doesn’t get blamed for that and to try to keep some of the lines of communication open because a lot of the young people we’ve talked to and other researchers have talked to have said that kids don’t share a lot of their negative experiences because they don’t want to lose their devices even though these occasional bad encounters or whatever, overall they’d rather not have to forfeit the phone or whatever.

Kurt: So to one extent, when parents are deciding to let their kids have a smartphone, they’re getting hooked pretty quickly and you’ve discovered maybe some reasons for why this is, why kids so much time on screen time. I like the analogy of the lunchroom. I thought that was a brilliant analogy. Tell us about that.

Art: Yeah. It was fun to kind of try to think of a way to explain that. Basically, with adolescents in particular, developmentally they’re going through their identity formation process so when you’re a kid your whole identity is just rooted in your family so you think I’m so-and-so’s son and I’m so-and-so’s brother and you don’t really think about who I am, what’s my place in the world, that kind of stuff, but in adolescence you start to differentiate yourself and figure out how you’re your own person apart from the family and so social media and digital media in general has become a really big part of that. Stuff like Snapchat, Instagram, all those kinds of things. It’s part of that, but it’s a lot of, the lunchroom thing, what we were trying to get across is that a lot of it’s intuitive. Kids can’t explain, a lot of parents I interviewed were like, “My daughter just goes on Instagram. She likes everything. She doesn’t even look at the picture and she’s liking everything.” Wearing certain clothes or sitting at a certain table with certain kids. It’s just about being in this environment or this space with other kids and how what you’re projecting and who you’re hanging out with and all that stuff. A lot of the disagreements I feel like with parents and adolescents, parents are like why do you go on Instagram and just like and why do you have a snapstreak that’s been going for 400 days with your friend? We’re thinking there’s some sort of substantive communication or relationship buliding that’s going on and it’s just the school lunchroom. They’re kind of just intuitively trying to find their place in all that.

Kurt: Why did you wear the color purple today? Why did you wear that shirt?

Art: Yeah. Why did you dye your hair blue?

Kurt: Understanding that though can be so helpful for parents because they’re not going to get so upset with or maybe as upset with why their child might be acting a certain way. It’s because this is the way kids are relating. In a sense, that’s to make it a neutral statement and whether there are pros or cons to that is still up for grabs, it’s up in the air. Certainly there are some downsides, there’s viral bullying, but I know again in reading one of your stories there was a parent who got their child a smartphone and their child would like only certain types of posts, I think maybe about comics or something like that and so the parent was able to use the digital world to find another way or a better way or just a way to relate to their kid because they discovered their kids like the comics so they had something to talk about. There are pros and cons here. 

Art: Yeah. For sure. There was another dad that I talked to, I think it was his daughter, but he actually noticed from kind of checking up on what she was liking on Instagram or whatever, but kind of noticed that there had been a change in what she was doing on social media and talked to her about it and found out his daughter’s pretty depressed and they weren’t seeing that so much over dinner, in real life, they weren’t picking up on it, but he kind of saw the patterns changing up with social media to catch it which is kind of interesting.

Kurt: One of the things I like about the book, you mentioned taking that knowledge making it relevant. You’ve got these discussion questions at the end of each chapter. You’ve really laid out the book to serve a small group setting, a parents’ group, where they can come together. Was that sort of the strategy behind the discussion questions aspect?

Art: Yeah. It’s funny because where there isn’t as much sort of talk about faith and theology and that type of thing in the book, if you’re thinking it’s from Fuller Seminary, there might be these long discussions around that and there isn’t quite as much of that kind of stuff, but that was part of my thinking as an evangelical seminary that we thought this is a topic that parents want to talk about. It’s a great thing for a church to lead a small group around it or for parents to do a book club or talk about it. One of the points that we get to near the end of the book is that and this is something I thought was really interesting when I was doing interviews and stuff. The way parents are using it and I don’t know how if there’s something comparable to the school lunchroom, but I’ll think about it, but it’s really competitive, so parents are wanting to show off and look at how our kids are so immaculate.

Kurt: We’re doing the same stuff the teens are doing.

Art: It’s the adult version of what kids are doing basically, but the difference that was so funny is that the kids are all collaborating to get to work around the parents. If the parents all have a content filter and one kid figures out how to get through the content filter, he tells all of his friends at school how to do it, and with the parents, they’re trying to answer all these questions and wrestle with all this stuff and they don’t talk honestly with each other about what they’re struggling with. It’s all look at our nice family photos or whatever. That was another thing we really recognized. The kids are being super collaborative to work around their rules. If they want to stand a chance, they need to work with each other a little bit more as well. 

Kurt: Parents have to come together and say, “Here’s what we’re doing. Are you able to do something like that?” You talk about how having, it’s a community experience almost because like you said, you’ve got kids that are sort of rerouting around the rules and that’s causing a problem or if their number or their friend or something, if his parents are total freedom, but you’ve got these boundaries, there’s going to be some difficulties there, so it’s definitely a community experience in helping other families to be accountable and to help them accomplish their goals.

Art: Even on a tech standpoint too, the one parent that I talked to that worked in IT and he was an IT professional, he started explaining all this stuff to me about how you get different routers and did all this stuff so the kids couldn’t get wi-fi in their bedroom, but they could get it in the kitchen. I didn’t understand any of what he was saying but I remember when I interviewed him I thought, “If I ever have kids, I gotta make sure I’m friends with an IT guy.” He knew how to do all this stuff so there’s a technical level too where parents might have a friend who knows how to set up some of that stuff that somebody like me doesn’t have a clue how to do it.

Kurt: I think it’s Disney that’s come out with something you attach to your router where you can shut off the internet or only for select users. Maybe it might be for certain devices or in certain times. That’s an option. There are products that are adapting to the needs of at least some consumers. You used terminology in the book, digital native and digital immigrant. Tell us about those two different terms.

Art: Yeah. There’s a book, probably have it sitting behind me.

Kurt: I see your Kierkegaard book. The striped red one. Oooh. Bobblehead of John Calvin.

Art; John Calvin bobblehead here which is a real staple. Anyway, there’s a book that’s called Born Digital. I can’t remember the authors off the top of my head, but it was kind of a terminology that they came up with and the idea is if you’re immigrant and I actually used the example of one of my own grandparents, my grandpa Bamford in the book because he came to the U.S. when he was 2 year old, but still in his 80’s would pass away would have a cup of tea every afternoon. He had a little bit of an English accent that he got from his parents, you know what I mean? Even though he had spent 80-something years in the U.S there was still a little bit of British kind of residually. The idea is that we’re at a point right now where there’s digital immigrants like I’m a digital immigrant. I still remember a pre-digital world, but the younger generation doesn’t and it’s amazing because I’m teaching at CU and my students, we talk about what’s different between electronic media and digital media and they’re like the electronic stuff is ancient history. You might as well talk about the Civil War or something.

Kurt: What would be the line? Would it be something like if you ever had to log onto the internet hearing that AOL sound, the dial-up, would you then be an immigrant to the digital world? Is that where the line is?

Art: It’s hard to say because I think smartphones were a really big game changer. I think the generation where they’re using Mom and Dad’s smartphones as little kids, that’s very different from my early childhood, but it’s probably…

Kurt: Somewhere around there.

Art: Around 20 I guess.

Kurt: I know there are parents, this is kind of awful. It’s a whole new world here. Parents that have uploaded videos of their babies holding a magazine, a paper magazine, and the baby is trying to swipe and try to get the magazine to do something.

Art: It’s funny too because I actually spoke at a thing in Silicon Valley, a church thing, and one of the parents that was there worked in tech for an app developer or something and he said that they actually have three and four year-old kids and some of the people who work there bring their own kids in or whatever but they have three year-olds do product tests on the apps that they’re developing, many of which are for adults, but the thinking is if it’s easy enough that the three year-old can use it, we’re good. Nobody’s going to bother our customer service people if a three year-old, if it’s intuitive enough for a three year-old[NP3] .

Kurt: What are some, I’ll ask this question and then we’ll head to a short break after you answer, one of the questions that parents had was what are some practical tips for keeping the family together so from preventing digital media from separating people, isolating them in their own digital worlds, what were some of the practical tips you guys discovered?

Art: The kind of time restraints boundary stuff that I mentioned earlier, kind of having some rituals and routines around all that. Not only in the day to day but then also with vacations and kind of figuring out what that’s going to look like. Are we going to be constantly taking pictures on social media while our family’s on vacation or are we not? I think figuring a lot of that stuff out is probably good. I’m trying to think of what some of the other ones were.

Kurt: It might not be necessarily getting rid of digital media, but it might be utilizing digital media. Watching Netflix together, watching a Netflix show if it’s appropriate. 

Art: I did a study at CU, we were looking at Netflix and talking to students about binge watching, some of which was very scary, the amount of binge watching that’s going on with college students, but there were a few that said that they had these kind of preplanned binge watches with siblings who were at other schools and with parents and they would be texting so they’d say, “Let’s watch such and such show together.” They’d be texting each other while watching it.

Kurt: They wouldn’t be together, but they would coordinated, “Let’s watch the first episode right now.”

Art: Yeah. Which is amazing. It’s cool, because with some of them it was like they started watching it in high school and they’d sit with their parents and watch the show and now they’re in college and texting and watching it at the same time. There’s a lot of cool opportunities like that to actually build more connection I think as well.

Kurt: We’ve got to take a short break here. When we come back we’ll continue our discussion with Art Bamford. He’s a senior fellow at the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture, at CU Boulder in Colorado and we’re talking about navigating our digital world and traversing the difficulties of managing social media and the internet and how we can use it to our benefit and other ways we might have to restrain ourselves. Stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.

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Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’d like to learn how you can become a sponsor, you can go to our website, Veracityhill.com and click on that patron tab. Patrons are also folks that just chip in a few bucks a month to help our program to continue and to grow and we would love to get your monthly support. We are presently exploring the opportunity to air our program in a small radio market. Chicago’s a bit too pricy for us but we figured if we should get on the radio we should get on some market and use that to expand our reach and ministry work. We’d love to get your support in doing that. We’re talking about social media and the internet and how it affects our lives, our family lives, certain tips and advice parents can have and utilize for their purposes in cultivating a healthy family life. We are joined today by Art Bamford, senior fellow at the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture, at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Art. You’ve got some interesting research areas. Let me just read this off here from your bio. Of course, you’re interested in media and religion. Media ecology. I haven’t thought of that before but sort of the ecosystem of media and how that all plays out. Rhetoric and music history. For your Master’s thesis, you used media ecology, theoretical framework, to compare the evolution of the written word or text from orality to literacy to the development of recorded music in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. That’s a niche.

Art: Real practical application with that one.

Kurt: Tell me about that. That alone interests me. What is that about? Let’s put it in layman’s terms.

Art: Let’s see if I can remember it now. The media ecology think is kind of like you said, it’s thinking about all the different media that people have at their disposal and how they communicate using all those things. There’s a scholar named Walter Ong, who wrote quite a bit about the emergence of print and after the print revolution, kind of around the time of the Reformation, that it changed a lot about society, that it had a lot of far-reaching effects and one of the things he talked about was the ways in which people actually write and sort of the process of being an author, that it changed authorship, because you thought about this big mass audience that was out there and it changed the types of things people wrote and that sort of thing and so I compared that to a couple of particular things like multi-track recording, the sympathizer, and the drum machine, but looked at how it’s real interesting in the late 60’s to early 70’s period, previously you had where a band was out performing live they would go into the studio and basically just play it live and record it, but you started to get this evolution where a solo artist locks himself in the studio for two years, lays down all these different parts, overdubs his voice, all that kind of stuff, and I just felt like there were a lot of similarities between that shift and the stuff that Walter Ong was talking about.

Kurt: Your PhD work focuses on revival movements and North American broadcasting.

Art: Yeah. Specifically, like advertising and marketing and PR, and it’s been real interesting to research it, but there’s this evolution of how people thought about and sort of talked about conversion and persuasion and how do you convince somebody to change their lifestyle, to change their mind, the idea of Christian perfectionism where you’re constantly striving to better yourself, that becomes popular at a certain point, and you really see, like advertising PR marketing, as a profession, as an industry, that’s kind of born in the US. It’s created in the US. I’m seeing, hopefully, I’m still writing the thing, I’m seeing kind of overlap and some interesting connections between those discussions about conversion and persuasion. 

Kurt: Nice. Very relevant especially to our non-profit Defenders Media. We help apologetic ministries to increase the visual appearance of the message. 

Art: Market revival. Look at you.

Kurt: You’re a first time guest on our program and I didn’t tell you about this. You’ll find out here. We do a segment of the show called Rapid Questions. He’s worried now. We’ve got sixty seconds here. We do a little game clock. You won’t hear the game clock. We just sort of strange questions out there and we’re looking for short responses. If you are ready, I will start the game clock.

Art: I’ve been in Grad school too long for short responses.

Kurt: Oh. This is really fun in doing this program now for over two years. We get people that are super fast and we get some of the very heavy academics who take 20-30 seconds on one question. It’s really fun and we get to know people a little bit more too. Alright. Are you ready?

Art: Sure.

Kurt: Alright. Here we go. What’s your clothing store of choice?

Art: J. Crew.

Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?

Art: Starve to death.

Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?

Art: No.

Kurt: If you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?

Art: Curveball.

Kurt: Have you ever had to wear a uniform to school?

Art: No.

Kurt: What’s the farthest away place you’ve ever been?

Art: Probably Seoul, South Korea.

Kurt: What’s the last show that you’ve binge watched?

Art: Probably Daredevil.. Netflix Daredevil.

Kurt: What time do you get up in the morning?

Art: Probably 5 actually.

Kurt: If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation where would you go?

Art: Switzerland.

Kurt: Last one. Are you a good cook?

Art: No.

Kurt: Great. You’d like to go to Switzerland.

Art: Yeah. I have John Calvin over my shoulder.

Kurt: You want to go to Calvin’s Geneva.

Art: Yes. It’s funny, because I went to Germany last year I guess for a Reformation thing and we were in Wittenburg and I wanted to try to get to Switzerland, just because I was in that neck of the woods, but it was too far. I didn’t want to spend three days on a train getting there and everything, but there’s a part of me and I’m still kicking myself.

Kurt: Hopefully, you’ll have the opportunity to get over there and maybe as you know, once you can pay to get over there, it’s pretty cheap financially to get around.

Art: I was hoping to kind of make a short day trip of it and I thought Switzerland probably deserves more than a day.

Kurt: Nice. We’re getting back to the segment, the topic for today’s program. We’re talking about social media, the internet, and traversing those difficulties that we perhaps have with our children, we anticipate having with our children, or maybe we ourselves deal with. I know it’s a struggle with me, I already do work on the internet. I’m communicating with some of our workers at Defenders Media, I’m on social media. Sometimes I think I should just give it up. There are some days like that, but then other days you see the benefit to it. Art. What’s been your experience studying social media? I read articles, maybe once a year that talk about usage in social media leads to depression among people. Is that stuff you’ve discovered yourself and what’s your take being on social media?

Art: It’s interesting and I think this was more with young people, but there was one study that I thought was very interesting because they found that the two groups that used social media the most, it was people that were depressed and people that were really happy. The people that were really happy, they were connecting and sharing all this stuff and it was great, but then this just sort of huge bell curve were those the heaviest users. You’re really happy or really depressed which I always thought was sort of interesting. When you mentioned Snapchat earlier, it’s funny because that was my first experience where I looked at it and I was, “I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to be a part of this. I have enough accounts and passwords out there.” I’ve sort of been an enthusiastic user. I think the ability to keep in touch with people has been amazing, a lot of my best friends are from high school and we’re already over the world now and we’re still texting each other stupid jokes literally. More recently, I’m having a lot of sort of issues with Facebook in particular because there’s been some sort of alarming stuff that’s gone on around them in terms of how people are using the platform and I don’t get the feeling that they care very much that some of it’s going on. There’s an article posted recently and it was fifteen instances of Mark Zuckerberg apologizing and saying they were going to fix something and then not fixing it. It was year after year, these congressional hearings and saying we’re really sorry about XYZ and then no accountability, and it’s hard because I have a lot of relationships that I’m more or less maintaining through that platform, so I don’t know that I’m at the point of completely cancelling my account, but I feel like there have been a lot more, check Facebook maybe once a month kind of a thing rather than every day.

Kurt: It seems like, especially in the growing age of social media censorship, some people are becoming wary of “What material is going to be out there or not out there? Do I put all this effort into having a page or group and what if Facebook, the powers that be, decides to nix it because one person reported it or something like that.” I was a part of a group, the Christian Apologetics Alliance, which was a very flourishing group and just one day, it was gone, and so people had to restart it. You’re talking searchable threads, topics, that no longer existed and it’s almost like these are just massive companies that it can be extremely hard to reach someone there too to find an answer, the customer service isn’t the best. Those are some concerns.

Art: One analogy I like to use with Facebook and this is one of my big hang-ups too and they always say the solution to all of these things. They’re going to code it. They’re going to improve the algorithm and it’s going to do a better job of sorting and filtering everything, but they have hardly any employees and they’ve got over 2 billion users. I did a little bit of math at one point. It’s basically comparable to if the city of Chicago which has 3 million people living in it, if they had 25 police officers for all of Chicago. That’s the ratio of employees at Facebook vs. users. You look at the kind of money they’re making. They’re making an extraordinary amount of money and they just don’t want to spend money to hire employees and they’re saying “We’ll just code it. We’ll improve the algorithm.” Hire some people. Especially with some of this stuff that’s going. Globally, there’s been a lot more extreme political stuff than we’ve seen in the U.S. and they’re just, like I said, Zuckerberg every couple of months pops out and says, “Sorry. We’ll fix it.” Really?

Kurt: There are market demands which might be in their interest to make, but there might be a minority of demands which might be in their interest to make. Some people might remain in the platform. It might be hard to move to a different platform because people are already so connected. They’re so integrated into the system that it’s just become a part of our life. You wake up. You check Facebook. There are some downsides. There are some upsides though too. Here’s a quote I found from Tessa, Mom of two, from your interviews. She writes here or said, I’m not sure if you transcribe them. “I share with them what the school sent home about Snapchat and how it was all about sexting and they got to drive an honest conversation about it in my family, tech tutorials have become a place where all of us feel safe to talk, share, teach, and in my case learn. I get to keep up with them because they’re bringing me along. In this home, Tessa discovered that she was able to have a good serious conversation about important topics. It provided that platform for doing so without making it awkward or not having that conversation at all. Some of the important conversations of life can be brought up as a result of social media usage.

Art: Yeah. With kids too we find a lot, because it’s one of the few areas where the parents or the grandparents will say, “Can you teach me how to do something?” So often the kids are in the position of asking the parents, “Can you help me with this? Teach me how to do something.” Kids really love it when parents say, “You’re the expert. Explain Snapchat to me” or whatever it might be. That was one of the pieces of advice in the book. Look for any opportunity to let a kid be the expert and teach an adult how to do something, they love it. 

Kurt: Getting them involved is definitely important. Some parents might be concerned. They give their teenager a smartphone. How are they able to without being Big Brother? How are they able to supervise and maybe in some cases censor things that are happening on their child’s smartphone?

Art: It’s definitely not easy. That’s a cop-out answer. I think which apps kids are able to have is a big part of it and we have kind of a form, and I know it’s on the website. It might be in the book too. I don’t remember exactly. Basically a permission form if a kid wants to download an app. It’s a one-page deal and it says, “Why do you want? What kind of information are you going to share? What kind of information is the app collecting from you?” Basically, you’re trying to get young people to think about what they’re getting themselves into with some of these things which most adults don’t think about. We haven’t set a great example there, but I think being very picky about which apps they’re using. A lot of the parents that I interviewed said that they would periodically sit down with kids and look through some of the texts and a lot of it depends on the age stuff too, but it gets to a certain age where, and there are other scholars who have found, it’s real interesting. It’s almost like training wheels. You gotta know the right moment when to take them off because kids will, it does get into that Big Brother kind of territory at a certain age. I think not only monitoring it and kind of keeping an eye on what young people are doing it, but also helping them think through it is a big part of it. Then it’s more comfortable to just let them run with it on their own if you feel like they have some kind of critical discernment skills for how they’re using stuff.

Kurt: Children want to feel trusted like their parents trust them and having a sort of contract if you will can be a good way to set up and manage expectations and to have and hold your child accountable to the things they agree with. If something does happen outside of that, the parent can come back and say, “This is what we agreed to” and say, “Maybe you’ve gone against that and here are the consequences.”

Art: My co-authors, Brad and Kara, what they loved about when we were developing that, they were saying the biggest thing a lot of times was they’d be in a meeting or something and their kid was at school or lunch talking to their friends and they would text and say, “Can I download such and such an app?” They kind of glance at their phone and they’re “I’ve never heard of this app.” They didn’t know about it. What they loved about it is that on this form they’ve created the parents get 24 hours to look into it. The best part is[NP4] . And figure out what they’re getting into exactly.

Kurt: In terms of raising good digital citizens, which is the title of one of your chapters. You’ve got a number of really great tips here and I want to list a few of them. Authenticity, empathy, great images too by the way here, not being anonymous I know is part of it. That one really struck out to me because doing apologetics ministry online, if I’m on social media and I’m engaging in a discussion with someone, say someone who doesn’t have a profile picture of themselves, or someone who doesn’t have any pictures of themselves. I’m going to act a different way because what that tells me is that the person doesn’t want to even have a perception of being accountable because there’s no way to track that person down. You might not know where that person lives. You might not have a set of mutual friends. While I still want to be winsome, I might still be a bit more short with the person, because there are plenty of people out there that are atheists, a lot of atheists out there that can be like this on the internet. There are Christians out there like this. They will say things online that are totally inappropriate, disrespectful, insulting, it’s definitely not the way you want to engage with people. When you’re not anonymous, there’s this greater sense of accountability. One of the things I tell people is just write online as if you’re speaking to them in person. Don’t say something you wouldn’t say to them otherwise, because that’s how they might get offended. Some of our listeners might be hearing what appears to be the sound of a leafblower Chris. Is that a leafblower?

Chris: Maybe a snowblower?

Kurt: I don’t even know if that’s a snowblower. It sounds like a leafblower.

Chris: We have a lot of snow and rain right now.

Kurt: We do have a lot of snow and rain right now.

Chris: No leaves though.

Kurt: It’s gone. False alarm. Sorry about that, Art. We’ve got our office here in downtown West Chicago and we get all sorts of sounds.

Chris[NP5] :

Art: I was going to mention to the point about anonymity that with that identity formation that we talked about with adolescents, they can, that’s one of the tricky things I think for parents is that anonymity and using avatars and that kind of thing can actually for one, it can be a way to keep young people safe and to protect them a little bit online. I know a lot of parents that when their kids first get onto social media, they have them create an account that’s not their real name, so that when they’re applying to college or looking for a job or something they can just move over to something with their real name on it. Pretty smart.

Kurt: That’s part of the training wheels process there.

Art: I wanted to say that with adults we approach anonymity in very particular, we’re trying to hide who we really are, something like that. With young people it can be a little more productive and helpful with respect to the identity formation stuff. 

Kurt: There’s so much more that could be said. I can think about, isn’t viral bullying, isn’t that the terminology? You get people creating fake profiles and then just bullying people, that’s part of the anonymity aspect and so raising a generation of children in our new digital age is very important for creating healthy people to begin with and having those controls, giving them the training wheels. When is, that’s a great analogy by the way, when would be a good time to take off the training wheels?

Art: When they’re 27. I think it depends kid to kid, kind of how mature they are. My own nephews. I have one that’s 11, one that’s 7, one who’s 2, but between 7 and 11 year-olds, there’s different personalities. I can see them acting differently if they would start using social media or whatever. Kind[NP6]  of discerning it with the kids, but I guess around, ideally before they go to college, you’d like them to have a couple of years where they’re not under strict supervision, but there’s still a safety net, but there is some kind of a big screw-up, that you need to talk with them about it. I’d say ideally about high schoolish, that kind of thing.

Kurt: Nice. Art. This has been a helpful conversation. Thanks for sharing with us your research and the publication here too, Every Parent’s Guide To Navigating Our Digital World.” We’ll be sure to put a link on our website so people can purchase the book and Chris will even get a link up I’m sure to our livestream that’s been going on. I apologize for any folks that have been commenting. I haven’t been paying attention this episode. Art. Why don’t you stick on the line? I want to chat with you maybe about a couple other things afterwards. Don’t leave this yet. Thank you so much for coming on the program today.

Art: My pleasure.

Kurt: That does it for the show. Next week we have Ted Davis joining us. He will be talking about Galileo. There are a number of ideas, beliefs about Galileo, and the relationship with the controversy and the Catholic Church, the drama that happened a few centuries ago. Ted has studied Galileo and he’ll be enlightening us on the truth. He’ll be correcting some misconceptions that many people have about that period of time. In the apologetics world, it’s sometimes an issue that gets brought up. The Catholic Church, religion poisons everything. It hates science and Christianity is opposed to science. Just look at what happened to Galileo. That gets brought up. Next week should be an interesting episode for those that have experiences like that in discussing the relationship between Christianity and science and that’s a number of talks and material that Ted himself has written about recently. That’s how I met him at the Bradley Study Center a couple months ago now. Looking forward to that interview next week.

That does it for the program today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. They are Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer Chris for all the fine work that he does, week in and week out. Thank you Chris, and to our guest today, Art Bamford who is a senior fellow at the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at CU Boulder. Last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. 

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Seth Baker

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