I somehow frequently find myself in conversations with older folks at local watering holes who like to talk my ear off about how different things were “back then.” Any sentence that starts with “When I was your age” used to make my eyes roll. But the older I get, the more I can appreciate the stories of a time that came before mine, as long as the storyteller doesn’t act like the changes that have occurred since then are my fault.
The conversation is always the same. It was a time when music was good, television wasn’t so overly stimulating, kids weren’t so spoiled and they actually played outside. But the stories almost always carry a common theme, and that’s that life was a little simpler back then. Yet, when I look around at the kids with cell phones taking selfies and posting them on Instagram, I start to feel like the old guys at the bar. As a member of the so-called Millennial Generation, I find it very hard to relate to those that came just 10 years after I did, even though the terminology of the cohort loosely puts us all in the same generational boat.
The demographic as a whole seems to be marked specifically by technology and the new reality it has created for us. But it seems as though the twenty-something generation today was raised during a unique time when a dramatic shift occurred. This shift, which appears to have occurred around Y2K, separated a time when technology was simply a part of life from a time where it became a way of life. The latter part of our generation was barely in elementary school then; they were born into a reality where checking for texts, emails and social media updates every ten minutes is normal, whereas we grew into it.
As a result, I often wonder what we’ll be saying to younger generations about a time that already feels so distant. I guess I imagine it going something like this:
When I was their age, I had to wait 10 minutes for the computer to turn on, and another 5 for the Internet connection to work. I remember when color printers became something people could afford and watching the piece of paper take 3 minutes to creep out of the machine for the first time like it was magic. I had to take turns with my siblings to go on AOL Instant Messenger because households only had one computer, and no one had laptops or iPads or Internet on their cell phones (or cell phones, period). And the main way to publicly express my thoughts was through an away message, which usually just informed others that I was getting a snack or something else equally trivial.
When I was a kid, phones were attached to the wall by a long cord until the cordless revolution began and being able to talk in any part of the house was a luxury. I didn’t have a cell phone until high school, and even then it was for one thing: to call mom to pick us up. Before then we called Collect from a pay phone, and in order to avoid having her pay for the call, we would say we needed a ride home as fast as humanly possible in the short amount of time the recorded woman gave you to say who was calling.
I remember a time when you could only read books in paper form, find out the weather by turning on the weather channel, or figure out where you’re going by looking at a paper map, not by following the directions of a British woman’s voice. A time when pictures could only be taken with a camera, and people actually got them developed. Libraries had physical card catalogs instead of electronic flat screens and finding a book took forever. It was a time when having more than 10 channels was a big deal and movies could only be rented from Blockbuster.
We saw the transition from VHS to DVDs, cassettes tapes to CDs, MP3 players to iPods, Nintendo and Sega to Xbox and PlayStation. We witnessed Napster transform the way we get our music, and later lead to iTunes, Pandora and now Spotify. We saw the beginning and end of MySpace, which catapulted us into the world of social media. We were the first ones on Facebook back when you could only have an account if you were in college and had a university email address. It wasn’t until later that we saw the birth of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and the rest of the cyber world that has completely changed the way we interact with others and experience life.
We can spend all day reflecting on the past and talk about the good old days when technology didn’t completely curate our experience. But regardless of how you look at it, the technological revolution has created a generation that is adaptable, innovative and extremely quick at processing information. Storytelling is a tool we can use to pass on what we know of an earlier time to those that come after us. Thus, I think the real challenge is, and will continue to be, to remind younger generations not of a simpler time, but that simplicity can be found even in the most complex of times.
And for our generation, we have the responsibility to remind them, and ourselves, that the good stuff happens when the power buttons are turned off.
Joey Albanese writes about the twenty-something generation in New Orleans for NolaVie. Send him questions or tell him the answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.