March 22, 2012

A reflection on the Internet from a Gen Y perspective

I’ve got to say, I feel lucky to be in my generation. Gen Y is the cohort sandwiched between the post World War II baby boom generation (generally not technologically reliant) and the post-millennial babies (who will have their whole lives digitally documented). I can’t help but feel sad when I think that most of their souls are sold to the Internet from day one (and I mean quite literally, think how many baby scans, or baby photos are uploaded per second by doting Facebook-using parents).

Having been born in ’89, I love that my baby photos are now probably thought of as kind of vintage-looking with my mum rocking an 80’s perm and my Dad sporting an impressive moustache coupled with a rather courageous patterned shirt. These photos cannot be copied, pasted, borrowed, re-pinned on Pinterest or used as a Sponsored Story marketing advert, these photos are in an tatty old photo album, on a dusty shelf, with all the memories tucked safely away inside.

I remember the first day we got our very first family computer. It was huge, clunky, took ages to turn on and I’d stare at the black screen as it loaded white text, waiting patiently as it configured, churned and coughed noisily. The mouse was huge back then, with three buttons  – the middle button was always a mystery. We had a stack of floppy discs that would be labeled with permanent markers and the monitor was big enough to rival the TV. Making space for this thing was quite a task but there it was: this new addition to the household and quite frankly no one really knew what to do with it.

I vaguely remember the first games my sister and I used to play on it. I also remember having to type in some sort of code in M-DOS mode to get on to the thing and it would pretty much consistent of pressing the space bar to ‘jump’ and the arrows to move.  But, it was new and fun and I could feel myself getting more and more addicted to this new machine and each time felt even more glued to the screen.

Then shortly followed the social element. I think I was about 10 when I first discovered the buzz of exchanging emoticons with my friends. My classmates and I would hear the home-time bell and having spent all day together, chatting endlessly, we would still say ‘talk to you later!’ as we left the school gates. We all knew that as soon as we’d get home, we’d dump our bags and we back together exchanging childish gossip on MSN messenger. We categorised our friendships from this early age, putting our favourites in a ‘best friends’ list, making a ‘family’ list (who we’d block) and of course a ‘people I don’t want to talk to’ list that we could ‘appear offline’ to. It of course was a painfully slow dial-up connection and I’d only be able to log on if it was after 6 o clock as my Mum informed me it was cheaper after this time. We’d all talk and talk and talk… but not because we hadn’t anything important to say, we were just excited by this new means of communication and the fact that we could express ourselves to each other in a new immediate way.

The first social network to erupt was Bebo. Again, it wasn’t that we had anything ground-breaking to say, but we were able to express ourselves in a new way by filling out our very first personal profile and choosing our interests, our hobbies, our profile picture. Another crucial element to why this became obsessed with logging on was the fact that for the first time ever, we were able to get a sneak peek into other people’s lives.

Then came the technical side of things. With the explosion of MySpace we were given an even bigger opportunity to express our personalities, tastes, types. We started to become experienced in HTML, coding our mini websites with backgrounds, borders, different fonts and colours and interactive bits and pieces. We were able to add music to our profiles and make friends with people based on what they liked. We were networking with people outside of our immediate circles and learning more about ourselves. We were becoming increasingly good at editing using high quality tools to make our photos look nicer and make sure our online personas has a certain embellished glow to them.

Of course we then hit 2006 when we discovered Facebook. Of course this happened because the girls in the year above were talking about it, and we were looking for the next best thing. And of course Facebook practically took the globe into its hands like a Magic 8 ball and we all played by the rules.

Reflecting on this blossoming relationship with the Internet, I still believe that the things I treasure the most are still very much off-line. Having had a childhood where I had to cycle to see my friends, read my books at night, play silly games with my sister, listen to stories by my grandparents and invent things to stay occupied, I feel lucky to be able remember what it was like before the digital revolution. I still think communication is an addiction, as people we always want to feel secure by our surroundings and don’t think that has ever changed through time. I remember my first ever mobile phone (3210 hello!) and getting in trouble for racking up a huge bill. But, it wasn’t so much crafting the messages that became addictive, but more about the thrill of receiving messages back. It was the sense that I was connected to lots of people through this singular device and that without it I wouldn’t ever be bored or lonely again.

When I read articles about University lectures becoming increasingly electronic and how my nephews are having computer lessons at the age of 5, I do worry a bit. Giving kids iPads and smart-phones and teaching them learn how to download apps when they are fresh out the womb is not going to make them smarter, it’s going to trap them in a digital bubble and not allow them to see it objectively at a later age. I don’t think anyone should think of the virtual world as the norm. I think is healthier to see the Internet as a valuable tool: to use, but not rely on or become a slave to. Life on the other side of the screen is where we should be encouraging children (and everyone) to spend more time, engaging, interacting and sharing memories. Let’s store real memories in our heads rather than the distorted versions that live on our Facebook Timelines.

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  1. Sophie says:

    nicely put! didn’t even need to dictate to a stranger xxx

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