This paper, presented at Seminar Week in July 2005, explored the theme “mobile theology” through a focus on the theological connotations of the question “Where are you?” which God addresses to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 8-10).I re-articulated the question for two different audiences. Firstly, what happens if we ask youth “Where r u?” Secondly, how might those interested in youth ministry respond to the question, “Where r u?”
Where R U?
In 2001 I noticed that young people were no longer using the normal social etiquette for greeting people. When answering a phone, they asked “Where r u?” instead of the traditional “How are you?” Of course one of the reasons for this change was the move from land lines and stationary phones to the use of mobile phones which allowed young people to be located anywhere. Youth in Australia have adopted mobile phones in extraordinary numbers with a McNair Ingenuity Research2 project in January 2003 reporting that:
- Mobile phones are more commonly used by men (who are 30% heavier users of mobile phones that women) and, in particular, young affluent men.
- Most people aged from 18 to 29 use a mobile phone daily and 95% of 18 – 29 year-olds have tried one.
- Approximately 1/3 of Australians are regular users of SMS text messaging, and 1 in 6 sends SMS messages every day.
- Text messaging is the domain of the young: on an average day in Australia, less than a quarter of Australians will send a text message, and only 3% of people aged over 60 will use SMS, but nearly 2/3 of people aged 18 to 29 will use SMS.
Children’s use of mobile phones is increasing dramatically as they are initiated into their use by parents who want to know “where they are” so they have easy access to them. A McNair Ingenuity Research on children’s use of mobile phones (April 2003) reported that:
- One in four (25%) aged from 6 to 13 now have a mobile phone.
- More than 90% of children aged from 6 to 9 have used a mobile phone, usually one belonging to their parents.
- As children get older more of their friends have mobile phones which the children sometimes use, and over 1/3 of children aged from 10 to 13 have their own mobile phones.
- Young girls are more likely to use a mobile phone than boys of the same age, and are significantly more likely to have their own mobile phones.
A Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council3 in 2002 reported that mobile phones rank as probably the most important product for young people. Mobile phones symbolised freedom, growing up, excitement and having fun and were ‘must haves’ for teenagers wanting to achieve social acceptance. In keeping with their clientele, and for their sake, Youth Workers were some of the first church professionals to adopt the use of mobile phones in their ministry. They must be mobile – connecting to the youth culture and flexible in their working arrangements.
Mobile phones have had a pervasive impact on Australian youth in terms of socializing, mobility and relationships. Since noticing the prevalence of this question of location, I have been eavesdropping on mobile conversations (especially while travelling in England).
“Sorry I’m on a train. The signal’s weak. Can you ring back in an hour?”
“We’re leaving Winchester.”
“We’re stuck at Clapham Junction. The train has some problems.”
“We’re on the train. Can Dad pick us up at Christchurch?”
“5 minutes outside of Parramatta.”
“Hi. …. I don’t know. …….. Yeah we’re at the roundabout ….. The big roundabout at Sopley. … ok bye!”
These quick, one sided train or bus mobile conversations are predicated on existing relationships and require context for the cryptic comments to be deciphered. Usually they are between parent and child, or partners with one waiting to collect the other, to begin the meal, to get ready to change shifts and exchange parental duties. Long conversations are not required on mobile phones that are used mainly for quick connections and emergency, geographic locaters, which according to an Ericsson survey on August 4, 2004, is the top service required by purchasers. Other services of interest were alerts, positioning (mapping), friend locator and video telephony.” Hopefully deeper and more meaningful conversations are held elsewhere to build and maintain these relationships.
“How are you?” is a different kind of question, which, if it is to be asked and answered honestly, requires adequate time. It is a much more personal interrogation. I remember a very difficult period in my life when I hated this routine enquiry of “How are you?” because it was so often used as a pretext for people to slide into their own agendas. When queried, I would have to do a double think. Did they know that my mother had died last week in a horrible accident? If so, they must be interested in my spiritual or psychological welfare. If not, then I would have to decide whether I had the energy to tell them the gruesome details.
Fortunately I rarely shared my personal story because the interval between questions was usually so short as to be embarrassing. One day I did respond to a casual request. As I walked down the corridor of the old Pitt St church office a woman I hardly knew asked “How are you?” Suddenly, I was annoyed by this paltry question and replied, “Not very well. My mother died last week.” She had reached the end of the long corridor before I finished speaking and had to walk back to offer some semblance of care. I felt a little guilty that I had selected her to carry my anger but as a stranger she seemed a safer person upon whom I could download some of my grief and pain.
In this busy world, there is so little time for or interest in asking how people are because their responses too often would interfere with what we want to achieve and use up our valuable time. “Where are you?” seems to be an easier question to ask and answer. Young people can make nippy connections and locate themselves quickly in time and space before moving on to their next party or activity.
Continue reading the essay “Mobile Theology” by Christine Gapes by downloading the pdf file below.
Download the lecture as a mp3 file (8MB) from here: Mobile Theology – Where R U?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Christine Gapes has served on the faculties of United Theological College, Australian Catholic University, Charles Sturt University, NSW; and Trinity Theological College, Qld. She has presented papers at academic conferences around the world. She has been a major planner of and speaker at national youth conventions in Australia and other places. Her research interests over the last twenty years have focused on adolescent bereavement and the theology of youth ministry.