It is a fantastic thing, watching old people use the internet. The gap between my generation and that of my parents is greatest when you consider our relationship to technology. And sure, facts are facts and we are all by now used to seeing the oldies struggle online, watching them stumble down the long, winding Information Super Highway.
It’s still strange to me when I think of how our generation (let’s say those of us who are now in our mid- to late- twenties) was ‘exposed’ to computers and internet-related joy. Personally, I think of recess in the fifth grade and how we could sign up to stay indoors on the hall computer and play Oregon Trail rather than run around outdoors with the rest of the kids. If that’s not foreshadowing for the sedentary lives of millions of 20-somethings, I just don’t know what is.
My parents, who together owned a small business, got the internet (sounds silly even saying that) when I was in about fifth grade, too. I remember that it made all those funky dial-up sounds as it tried to patch together the threads of a network that was then infinitely smaller than the one we’re now accustomed to. I would go in yahoo chat rooms with my best friends and have goofy conversations with lonely adults, mostly. Even then they were awkward on the internet.
Because my parents worked so much, we lived in the middle of nowhere, and there was a lot of fetching me from school/theatre rehearsals/friends’ houses, I got my first cell phone around my freshman year of high school. It was a big, blocky nokia, and it was still rare to see kids carrying phones around.
I think it’s so important that we experienced the actual introduction of these gadgets into our lives. We can distinguish the difference between today and pre-internet. If we allow ourselves, we can think back to simpler times when alarm clocks announced it was time to get up and not our cell phones, where people actually had landlines where they could be reached, and said things like “Hang on, let me get the cordless phone” so they could wander around the kitchen as they chatted. We used to watch television on a television set, too. And we were content to not always have the answer to everything, as opposed to streaming episodes of our favorite shows, and looking up even the dumbest question on our smart phones because not knowing is no longer necessary.
We called people when we wanted to see them. Now we don’t have to see anyone ever again. Send a facebook message from time to time, ‘like’ someone’s link, give a ‘lol’ in response to a friend’s post (seriously though, when are people going to get tired of saying that). Facebook even remembers birthdays for you. None of the people who just wrote you those ‘happy birthday’ messages had to remember a damn thing. They did not write this in their datebooks or on their calendars. They turned on their computers this morning while sleepily sipping their coffee. What is your boyfriend’s phone number? You have no idea because you don’t need to remember that kind of crap – your phone does it for you.
Does this mean you don’t care about your friends or your partner? Definitely not, but it does raise a few questions about our dependence on technology. Not to go all conspiracy-theory here, but what if it all just…broke one day. I know. It sounds nuts. And I also know that, if you are of my generation or older, and/or smoke those marijuana cigarettes either recreationally or professionally, you have probably thought about this possibility on at least one occasion. This is the kind of stuff that the best end-of-the-world films are made of. Poor humans who have become so dependent they forget how to live without the latest technological developments, having somehow lost track of their humanity.
This is a criticism, not only of our utter dependence upon technology, but also of our inability to remain focused or retain information due to the ease with which we access it. Think of how many times you have lost yourself in the labyrinthine trails of the internet. A friend posts another article about Miley Cyrus and for some reason you click on it, which leads to some weirdly trashy site, the kind with nothing but big blocks of images with scandalous headlines like “Top Ten Actress Nose Jobs,” “Can You Tell Which Of These is Photoshopped?,” “Secrets to Weight-loss from the Stars.” And hell, before you know it, you’re like MUST SEE NOSE JOB COMPARISONS, and you wake up as if from a dream four hours later, drool running down your chin, your twentieth cigarette burning down to the butt, a cold cup of coffee to your left, and a page open on your browser outlining the now-defunct agencies of the United States government.
And the miracle is that you will probably not remember any of this stuff later. Really, you think, How cool is it that all of this information is at my fingertips? I could be a genius! but let’s get Real here.
So I wonder if our more aged internet users are retaining more. Because they seem to be playing the internet for keeps, while the rest of us dash around so fast that our browser tabs seem to be multiplying on their own. For instance, look at how older generations use the internet. If we’re talking grandparents, then MAYBE they have figured out how to send an email (side note: a friend once told me a story about how his grandma used her email account to type a letter, and would then print it out and mail it normally). Our parents tend to be able to navigate at different capacities given the demands of their jobs. For instance, my dad went all autodidact on the internet back in the day, and even though he still types slowly, he makes me proud.
I would be interested to hear how many people in their 50s regularly get lost in internet k-holes. For instance, do their brains support this? By this I mean, is it easier for younger generations to adapt to the fast-paced hunting/gathering of information than it is for the older generations? And if they do get led off on article after article, are they retaining more content than we younger folk?
Here is the last Old/Young internet question I want to present before concluding this time capsule tangent: Facebook and Friendship. Do young people make friends on the internet? This topic confounds me, because although I’m teased for having over 1000 FB friends, I’ve probably met all but maybe 10 of them. Not only that, but I met them BEFORE accepting or requesting their friendship on FB. Sure there are FB introductions, made through friends who want you meet some other friend of theirs, but it occurs to me that there are people who actually MAKE friends on FB. And most of these people are older than I.
My mother seems to have a whole network of buddies she met just trolling along on FB to pass the time. A lot of them are friends from her younger years, but there are quite a few total strangers that she converses with on a regular basis. That is how she met her new husband. They seem to treat FB almost like a forum or a chat room – back and forth for hours in one post. When a person of my generation starts that crap, I react viscerally, asking myself Why is the internet so messy today!?
I’ll never forget one time that my mother suggested I meet a friend of hers while visiting New York. We had texted back and forth and decided upon a meeting place. When she was late, I called my mother to pass the time, and to ask her for more details about what the woman looked like, so I could keep an eye out. When my mother’s response was, “Oh I don’t know, I’ve never met her. I think she has long hair though. There is one picture where she is…” I was all – – – But voilà they are good friends and the woman turned out to be a really beautiful person.
It’s almost as though we use technology to reinforce preexisting bonds within the context of our tech-savvy world, and the instinct of our parents’ generation is to forge new bonds. Could it be simple curiosity? Is my mother now representative of Fifth Grade Me, when my fascination with the outside world led me to chat rooms full of people pretending to be dinosaurs and asking each other things like “a/s/l?”
Are the older generations using the internet to cling to their humanity rather than caste it off?