Are you too young to appreciate social media?

8 05 2008


Gen Y at work“That doesn’t happen to digital natives,” a Gen Y (how I’m coming to loathe that label) colleague smirked at me the other day. I’d been telling him how I’d got frustrated fumbling around with a new piece of software. One minute I could get it to do what I wanted; the next minute, I couldn’t even find that function I’d just used. I was trying to describe that fog that falls on you as you end up in a Kafkaeqsque struggle with some application you’ve not used before. Apparently that doesn’t happen to 23-year-olds.

It’s a saw that technology is moving faster. My grandmother had plenty of time to get to grips with “the wireless”, as she still calls it, before she had to master a television, and she had decades between TV and the VCR. In music I’ve moved from LP to tapes to CD, dabbled in the minidisc, and landed on the MP3. I remember Betamax; I had a pager before I had a mobile phone; and the first computer game I played came on a cassette tape.

The pace of change has made generation gaps smaller. My girlfriend, only six years younger than I, had a mobile phone at school. I didn’t have one till I was well into my first job after university. She’s quite happy with text contractions and abbreviations (“See u”) while I will go deep into the SMS menu to find a semi-colon.

The teenagers I used to work with laughed at me as a dinosaur when I mentioned LPs. I used to tell them it was one thing to laugh at me — a whopping 10-odd years older than they — but their younger brothers and sisters would be laughing at them.

My cocky young colleague got me thinking, though. Yes, I didn’t grow up with all the toys tools he did but that makes me appreciate them more.

Growing up English in Hong Kong in the late-70s and through much of the 80s meant international phone calls were a birthday treat. Letters took a week to arrive. Photographs were expensive to print, a pain to duplicate and were rarely sent.

My appreciation of the immediacy of today’s communication is something I feel every day. I’m grateful to be able to keep in touch with so many people so easily. Yes, I understand that looking at an old friend’s status message on Facebook isn’t as intimate or informative as a letter but I’m more in touch than I would be if we had to write to each other. I know who has children, who’s been on holiday and who’s celebrated a special occasion.

How many people would I know that about if I were still relying on finding time to write a letter? How many pictures of my new nephew in London would I have seen if my sister had to develop extra prints and post them to me? And how long would I have to wait for them?

To be a Gen X is to appreciate these things, my son.

My grandmother’s Facebook page:





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