Culture Students

Communication: “Where’s My Screen?”

“Where’s my screen?” blurted the middle-aged woman next to me while we waited for the Indiana Jones show to begin at Disney World. Her rummaging instantly produced a sleek iPhone. We still had 10 more minutes to blow, why not get a little bit of work done while waiting?

Over-35’s value smartphones as a means to greater effectiveness, efficiency and tech-cool. But many blogs I read, especially in ministry, continue to insist that an email inbox will always be the way to get real work done.

But what does this generation of Screenagers think? Did you know that email was last on the list of 8 preferred methods of communication – after DVDs and books?

“What Are Your Preferred Methods of Communication?”

Dr. Tim Elmore of asked recent focus group of 16-24 year olds this question. This group’s top eight methods of communication are:

1. Text messaging
2. Internet (i.e. MySpace or Facebook)
3. iPods and Podcasts
4. Instant messaging
5. Cell phone (actually speaking with someone)
6. DVD / CD
7. Books
8. Email

Dr. Elmore continues:* “I want you to notice a few things about this list. First, note that email is last on the list. One student described email as “a way to communicate with older people.” Second, with one exception, this list moves from more personal to less personal in nature. They want something customized not generic if they’re going to pay attention. Third, and most importantly, these students prefer a “screen” for six out of their top eight favorite methods of communication.

The Screen Age
Every generation shares common characteristics. However, each generation is defined by some shared elements in their developmental years. The primary elements that define a generation are:
1. Shared Music
2. Shared Experiences
3. Shared Crises
4. Shared Television Programs
5. Shared Celebrities (people of influence)
6. Shared Age and Era

Today, the delivery of almost every one of these elements share one thing in common–they are driven by a screen. Call me the master of the obvious, but students want to interact with a screen. In fact, we’ve begun to call students “screenagers” because they are more at home in front of a screen than watching a talking head on a stage. They want a personal message, but want to control how intimate and vulnerable they become. They like the option of signing off when they wish.

The fact that text messaging landed at number one on the list tells us a lot about students today. Bear with me as I venture some observations about why text messages are the preferred method of communication:

1. Text messages represent very current communication.
More so than voicemails, a text means I need to interact now about something relevant to you.

2. Text messages are generally sent from someone you know.
Unlike phones, you generally don’t get a “wrong number” or generic call on a text message.

3. Text messages are brief and to the point. [Unlike this lengthy blog post :-)]
The person texting doesn’t waste words; in fact, they usually abbreviate the message.

4. Text messaging is in your control.
The receiver can stop when they want to.

This kind of control is attractive to students today. They want communication on their terms. Students today are inundated with messages, from every side. I believe they’re most likely to respond to a text message because it allows them fast, current, relevant communication with friends–but at a safe distance. They like intimacy without a lot of vulnerability. It sounds like a paradox and perhaps it is. I believe this is but one of several paradoxes that exist among Generation Y. Consider this. This is the first generation who does not need authorities to access information. Why? They have screens. However, they do need authorities, like you and I, to help them process that information. We can interpret it for them. This is our challenge.”

*Normally I would link to a post of this length, but I received this information by email and can’t locate it on Elmore’s site.

Leadership challenge: What communication methods do I need to develop in order to connect – life-on-life – with this generation?

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

3 replies on “Communication: “Where’s My Screen?””

Great post Ken! I love it. When we switched from email to Facebook as the primary way of connecting with leaders, we went from 60 -70% response rate to close to 100%. I would agree that email is definitely last on the list.

Ken, Finally I find your blog and a few others. I just recently heard the term screenagers and this article confirmed it.
I showed this article to a guy who graduated last year and is working full time with Stillwaters (our church). He fully agrees with the article, especially since the past couple of years our primary means of communication on campus is text. It would be interesting to have the global campus team text all the AOA campus directors and see how many text back in 24hrs compared to sending an email and getting a response.
I plan to experiment in our AOA with the NCDs to find out which means of communication works best and with whom. Instead of trying to force people to conform to my way, i need to be willing to adapt too.
Phillip Baron

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