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Our Mission Field — The MySpace Generation

Just last week, I released a major commentary on the dangers of teenage blogging. In “Courting Dangers Online–Teenagers and the Internet,” I reported on the fact that many teens and young adults are putting themselves at risk by revealing intimate details of their lives online — mostly through these new personal blogs.

Now, Business Week reports that marketers and business strategists had better find ways to reach what the magazine calls the “MySpace Generation.” This generation also presents the church with a missiological challenge — how to reach this generation with the Gospel.

The Business Week cover story makes some important observations. Consider these paragraphs:

As the first cohort to grow up fully wired and technologically fluent, today’s teens and twentysomethings are flocking to Web sites like Buzz-Oven as a way to establish their social identities. Here you can get a fast pass to the hip music scene, which carries a hefty amount of social currency offline. It’s where you go when you need a friend to nurse you through a breakup, a mentor to tutor you on your calculus homework, an address for the party everyone is going to. For a giant brand like Coke, these networks also offer a direct pipeline to the thirsty but fickle youth market.

Preeminent among these virtual hangouts is MySpace.com, whose membership has nearly quadrupled since January alone, to 40 million members. Youngsters log on so obsessively that MySpace ranked No. 15 on the entire U.S. Internet in terms of page hits in October, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Millions also hang out at other up-and-coming networks such as Facebook.com, which connects college students, and Xanga.com, an agglomeration of shared blogs. A second tier of some 300 smaller sites, such as Buzz-Oven, Classface.com, and Photobucket.com, operate under — and often inside or next to — the larger ones.

Although networks are still in their infancy, experts think they’re already creating new forms of social behavior that blur the distinctions between online and real-world interactions. In fact, today’s young generation largely ignores the difference. Most adults see the Web as a supplement to their daily lives. They tap into information, buy books or send flowers, exchange apartments, or link up with others who share passions for dogs, say, or opera. But for the most part, their social lives remain rooted in the traditional phone call and face-to-face interaction.

The MySpace generation, by contrast, lives comfortably in both worlds at once. Increasingly, America’s middle- and upper-class youth use social networks as virtual community centers, a place to go and sit for a while (sometimes hours). While older folks come and go for a task, [these young people] are just as likely to socialize online as off. This is partly a function of how much more comfortable young people are on the Web: Fully 87% of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet, vs. two-thirds of adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Reaching the MySpace Generation won’t be easy, according to Business Week, but companies that hope to do well in the future must build those bridges. Of course, that’s even more true for the church. The MySpace Generation is our future.