I consider myself to be among the elders of Generation Internet, AKA Generation Y… or X depending on who you ask. I used Yahoo before Google existed. I learned HTML coding in high school. I hung out in IRC chat rooms and used ICQ messenger. I remember when 128MB was huge and it took a week to download a single song through IRC (as long as the person you were downloading it from didn’t go offline). I had profiles on Hi5, Bebo, Friendster and MySpace before Facebook was even a thing. The first website I ever built was on Homestead.com and until about a year ago, it still existed (It was a Tom Green fan site and one of the first results that came up when you searched “Tom Green” on Yahoo search). My second website was on Tripod.com and it still exists. As embarrassing as it is to look at my old websites now, they hold a great deal of nostalgia for me. I remember every detail, sitting at the small desk in front of an old IBM computer my mom had purchased for the family, tapping away and connecting with people and information from all over the world. Each of my sisters and myself were allowed 1 hour of Internet per night, unless my mom had to make a phone call. Waiting for dial-up to connect after my mom taking forever on the phone was torture for a 16 year old who just started talking to boys on ICQ or MSN messenger.
I think I live in a pretty unique generation. The last to remember what it was like to grow up without a cell phone or Wikipedia, but still young enough that my mind was partially shaped by the Internet during those developmentally important teen years. I’ve watched the world shift, and while I’ve shifted with it, I’ve watched others older than me get left behind.
As I watch the world around me, I see people defining themselves by a series of glowing screens, myself included. I spend a great deal more time developing my online presence than I do my physical self. Online communication is easier, and takes the place of face to face interaction until you no longer feel like you’re capable of the latter. I watch people younger than me sit in groups, but each of them interacts only with the phone in their hand. Texting, tweeting, Facebooking, updating their Tumblr blogs, yet not making eye contact with the boy or girl sitting next to them. I don’t yet know what this means for the future, or whether it’s good or bad.
It makes me feel old to note the difference between my generation and those who are just in their teen years now. Though we have access to the exact same Internet, and even use the same websites and devices, there’s a big difference in how we handle the information. A lot of it has to do with prioritising, I believe. If I’m in a room with someone, they take priority over anything that happens on my phone or computer. If I get a text, I wait to check it after the person I’m physically with leaves or becomes otherwise distracted. I have friends just a few years younger than me (and even many the same age or older. Hi Paul.) who will stop mid-conversation or even mid-sentence to check a text message on their phone (I’m looking at you too Lindsay!).
We live in a really unique time right now. The human race has never been more connected. Sometimes it feels like our brains are spun; hard-wired into the web. Just a few decades ago, if you wanted to talk to a friend or family member in another country, it would cost you a hefty long distance phone bill to talk to them, or you would have to send them a physical letter, which could take weeks to get there. Now, you can connect with anyone on the planet in couple of seconds using Skype, or you can send an email that gets delivered instantly across the globe.
As connected as we are on a communicative level, we’ve become so disconnected in other ways. Today, I smiled at an older lady when walking home and she honestly looked surprised, then smiled gratefully back. We avoid eye contact or pretend to be preoccupied on our phones to avoid interacting with strangers out in the wild. I’ve been practising looking up more often, and I’ve noticed that this new way of things is more prevalent than I previously thought. Most people won’t meet your eye and if they do, they look surprised when you smile at them. Very few actually smile back.
Being the mother of a young boy, I can’t help but wonder about what the future holds for the human race. We live in an incredibly unique time in history. It’s exciting to be part of Generation Internet, but it can also be a little bit scary because so much about the long term effects on our psyche is still unknown. Will we reach a time when our entire lives are lived online? Rather than having to remember facts, we need only remember to bookmark the site where we learned those facts, to quickly recall them as needed. Our brains are being exercised, but in different ways. What will this mean a few generations down the bloodline? Will body language become obsolete? Will our bodies become obsolete?
Wendy: Proud Member of Generation Internet