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Generation Y

May 31, 2004

Many people — marketers, journalists, futurists, fun-seekers — look to define generations. Baby Boomers are a tired subject, perhaps, but hardly passé.

A new generation has been “discovered.” It’s a large one at 87 million and is called various things: Millennial Generation, Generation Y, etc. It is made up of people born between 1982 and 2002.

One thing that makes them different from preceding generations is that they have grown up with “the chip.” Computer technology is not “technology” to them. It is an integral part of the cultural matrix they have always known.

Although they are users of digital electronics, it does not follow that they are masters of it. They may be accustomed to multitasking (but not be particularly good at it), to instant access to “information” (but remain incapable of evaluating it), to the ever-changing world of the Internet and computer software (because it’s always changed).

You may never have witnessed “chat” in an adolescent chat room, but it looks the way a roomful of sugar-charged kids sounds. Everyone’s talking; nobody’s listening. It’s not even recognizable talk; it’s in code, like slang; the ASCII equivalent of grunts and groans.

Is this bad? It’s no worse than the chatter and gossip you might hear around town among people of all ages. Some conversations are edifying, some not; same in Internet chat.

However, there’s a fundamental difference: anonymity. It never occurs to many older users to remain anonymous or adopt an online identity because their primary use of the Internet — email with family and friends, stock transactions — doesn’t invite it.

Some people revel in the anonymity. Others feel awkward about it. It can be a matter of sophistication or naivete; or a matter of comfort about posing as someone different from the familiar image of oneself.

Many parents may not be aware of this aspect of Internet communities and so wouldn’t even think to discuss it with their children. It’s also one of the facets of Internet life that frightens other parents. The anonymity goes both ways. Who are those other people chatting out there?

My impression is that many kids chatting actually know some of the people they’re chatting with. They’re not in the chat room alone; the point is to be there with friends.

But what about the struggling loner or the lost child from a broken home? And what should parents think of the typical adolescent who is reluctant even to look at her hideous progenitors, much less talk to them? Will she look for friendship elsewhere and, finding it offered, trust the words that magically appear on her computer screen?

Talk about it. It’s one of those things that might seem unnecessary, or that you wish were so, but if it’s going to haunt you anyway, you might as well talk about it. Make your child convince you she’s smart about the world.

The notion of maintaining an online persona might create an interesting dilemma for parents. How does one discuss “Truth” and the Internet? Mom says, “Honey, don’t tell them your real name.” Child says, “You mean lie?” Mom says, “Go to your room.”

What can you say? There’s help. You’ll soon find some on the library’s web page, but meanwhile, check out the websites listed in “srlog,” the library’s blog. It’s in the upper righthand corner of the library web page: http://salidalibrary.org.

Don’t know what a blog is? You have more fun stuff to learn …

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