My father—a once-would-be-leader against the use of cell phones worldwide—has now officially succumbed. Not only is he the proud owner of a Blackberry, but he also learned how to text message. And I always laugh to myself when I receive one that says something to the effect of: “Hi Erica, it’s your Dad. I’m sending this to you from my phone. I love you!”As though I don’t know that (a) it’s from my dad and (b) that he is sending it to me from his phone. Welcome to the digital age, Pops.
My parents continually surprise me. And not in the I can’t believe she tried to stop her bike going downhill with her bare feet way that I surprised them when I was six. They surprise me because—despite their wealth of education and inherent brilliance—they are relatively clumsy when it comes to technology.
I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the uniqueness of our age bracket—those of us who in the twenty to thirty something range—a decade of young adults who were shaped by the before, the after, and the transition of the digitally-infused information age.
We represent a group who remember playing outside after school, instead of rapidly IM-ing our forty closest friends, even though we are also a group who knew how to IM better than most. We are a group who were taught the Dewey Decimal system, yet also excel at finding anything and everything online that we could in a book. We are old enough to remember life before the dot coms, yet young enough to have its presence change and define the career paths we chose.
Those older than us learned about the internet when they were already adults—most of their career paths had been chosen, and the world wide web was mostly an enigma that enhanced daily communication and research. For the later generations, life today is still not controlled by the internet, rather it becomes just another tool. It might as well just be a digital form of everyone’s favorite Yellow Pages. (Of course, in the case of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others, it is clear there are exceptions to every rule.)
Those younger than us don’t know life without it. It is entertainment, education, communication, and deviation all rolled into one easy portal. And it is not only the primary form of social networking and media targeted right to them, but it shapes their every day lives in a way that is oftentimes, unhealthy. At least when I was in school, bullying on the playground ended when the final bell rang.
Now, the majority of all paths—life, career, or otherwise—utilize the internet and digital technology in some way. You can order a pizza or send a birthday card (on time) to anyone, anywhere. Instead of supporting musicians by purchasing their newest album, their product has been paired down to bite-size pieces, available for only ninety-nine cents. The face of small retail business has changed from being that place that always keeps a certain bottle of wine in stock “just for you,” to keeping very little stock at all and directing you to a Web site with “more options” for purchase.
Even our social lives have been made easier, and as a result, less personal through the ease of text messaging, photo messaging, and caller ID. Any opportunity for authentic communication is mediated by a digital device that allows us to avoid conflict, unwanted lengthy conversation, or your grandmother’s call to find out why you still aren’t married.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a positive side to all of this, too. I wouldn’t trade a text message from my father for no reason in the middle of the day for anything. Nor would I discount value from my extended appreciation for the memories of what was and an increasing gratitude for what digital technology has offered me as a young professional.
But what I want to know is, don’t you miss walking into your neighborhood pizza shop, and smelling the fresh pies and watching them toss the dough? Don’t you miss handwriting a birthday note rather than sending an animated dancing elephant through an over-commercialized Web site? Don’t you miss the day your favorite musician’s album was set to be released, so you could pull out the liner notes and read along with the lyrics? Don’t you miss running into people you know downtown on the Green? Don’t you miss dial phones? Does anyone even have an answering machine hooked up to their home phone anymore … does anyone even have a home phone anymore?
So, for us, the tragically hip twenty and thirty somethings who experienced the mainstream transition between playing outside with our friends and having our lives truly defined by this new medium—the digital world means something more than just having a phone book that is easier to read, or a cooler way to take notes in class.
It means a moment when we watched our society evolve from band-aid-covered children who value the great outdoors to slick, young professionals who are so adept at computers and peripherals, that everything in our lives became faster. The pace of our everyday is defined by the speed at which we can process things, complete projects, move on the next thing, and respond to family, friends, and colleagues. We refuse to get coffee anyplace that we can’t also get free internet access, and it is easier to manage our money online (and risk identity theft) than stand in queue and get a lollipop from our friendly hometown bank teller. We find ourselves nurturing a society fueled by immediate gratification, and a generation who is ultimately disconnected with those around them.
Recently, I have found comfort in not even looking at my laptop when I leave work. I leave my phone at home when I go to the gym, and I only turn the TV on for my habitual reality television obsession at 10 p.m. I have been reading a lot more, enjoying the great (albeit humid) outdoors as I did when I was young, and I am pacing myself in returning e-mails (as some of you may have noticed … sorry).
And even though the direction and success of my career (and mind you, a career that I adore) is directed by this digital age, I find that by removing myself from it, even for a few hours each day, leaves my head clearer to understand what is really important in life, and what will always be there even if the last computer server on earth crashed right this minute. (For starters – I would have to re-write this entire article by hand onto loose leaf paper.)
The amusing irony of course is that as I focus on reconnecting with the people and the outside world around me, my parents (who taught me the importance of that to begin with) are trading places. Texting, Instant Messaging, Blackberries … what’s next—a MySpace page?