Abingdon Press, 2015, 160 pp., $13.80We recognize how teenagers are using technology and social media—especially how much they use it!—but this may not be the most helpful premise. Why is technology and screen time so ubiquitous in youth culture? Based on careful research and theological reflection, Andrew Zirschky contends that teenagers are seeking relational rather than technological connections. They are drawn to personal presence, an experience of sharing life with others, what we call koinonia in Christianity. He says, “Technology allows teens to experience presence in absence when present presence isn’t possible.” Youth workers have responded to teen’s moth-like draw to screen use by adding more apps and videos in their ministries, but the better response lies in social presence and genuine understanding, not technological advancements.
Any book or study focused primarily on technology and social media likely will feel dated within a few years, as that’s the nature of our disposable tech. Yet Beyond the Screen explores not just current trends but the deeper motivations and practices behind technology use: the human drive for relationship, which never will become obsolete. Zirschky writes in a thoughtful, intellectual tone that has academic undertones while remaining wholly accessible. I was reminded of Shane Hipps’ early books on technology, though Zirschky is more research-based and focused on youth ministry. For many youth workers, this book simultaneously will feel familiar and completely revolutionary in its scan of the techno-social landscape and the implications for the spiritual formation of young people.