Get Updates

New posts, webinar and event invitations, and more.

Born Into the Internet

, Friday, December 6th, 2013

I recently heard a new song lyric that reminded me of an old song lyric that got me thinking about generational differences and eventually the internet.

First, the songs.
The old song was written by Mike Watt in the 90s and advised my generation (Gen X) to “defend themselves against the 70s (Baby Boomers).” The new song was written by Icono Pop and made it clear that while I was born “from the 70s,” Millennials were born “from the 90s” and, thus I don’t get them.

What I found really interesting about these songs is that while both sing about generational differences, their message is subtly different. The Mike Watt song advised my generation to prepare to deal with the expectations of the older generation. The Icono Pop song advised my generation that the younger generation doesn’t care about my expectations and I better deal with it. Poor Gen X.

Second, the internet.
So what does this have to do with the internet? My generation was the first to enter the workplace during the rise of the internet. I spent a lot of time in the late 90s and early 2000s, convincing baby boomers that there were new and improved ways to communicate online. For example, in the year 2000, I gave a presentation to a bunch of big wigs from the Gore campaign about how my former employer and I used the internet to distribute millions of fliers instead of mailing them out. Sounds crazy, but using the internet to share documents was still ground-breaking just 15 years ago.

Meanwhile, the millennial generation is the first to enter the workplace, having nearly been born into the internet. They can’t remember a time when people didn’t communicate online. It’s not a new way to communicate, it’s just a part of how you communicate. That’s pretty different when you think about it. No matter how long I’ve worked in this space, can my view of online communications be the same as someone who has never known a world without it? Probably not, and if you listen to Icono Pop’s advice, I better just deal with that reality.

Third, so what.
Technology is changing so quickly that varying generations will probably always view it differently. I recently read a white paper claiming that academics are now seeing generational differences in siblings (remember, ubiquitous technology like Twitter burst on the scene at SXSW just 6 years ago). It can happen that fast.

Now, I’ve been lucky. Early in my career I had a fantastic mentor who helped create a space where I could try out crazy new ways to communicate and win elections online (and also get me out of trouble when some of those ideas bombed).  For my part, I tried to make sure everything we developed passed my “mom test” — that it could be figured out by mom without training. Later in my career, I’ve been blessed to work with many brilliant and energetic young people, who repeatedly teach me new tricks (and it is my turn to occasionally get them out of trouble). And of course, the mom test still serves us all well.

And that is probably the best way forward. Different generations with different viewpoints bringing their ideas to the table and collaboratively finding the best solutions and a world big enough for both of them. It’s great fun to be part of the next wave of online communication, but I still can’t quite wrap my head around why someone would want to use Chat Roulette…

One Response to “Born Into the Internet”

  1. Mark Says:

    There’s another related generational phenomenon at play here that I think as web site/app designers, builders and marketers we have to keep our eye on: “technology adoption plateuing.”

    More plainly… at some point all of us stop, or at least have trouble continuing the adoption of new technologies. For instance, Grandma never made that jump from VHS to DVD because it was just one step to many along the technology continuum. Similarly, there are probably fewer of us Gen-X’ers who are making that jump to SnapChat or Vine, because it’s just one more thing.

    So perhaps the Mom test is not only ‘could Mom figure it out,’ but also ‘would Mom want to figure it out in the first place.’

    As with most things in web design, it all comes back to really knowing your audience as we build the next great web site or application.