There is no doubt about it: the world that I grew up in is gone. It was filled with kids having water fights in the streets, our house being the place where all the hoses seemed to converge. It was bikes and bells, and doing what we could to get the ball away from the dog. It was riding the Tonka toy fashioned to look like a Jeep down the driveway (mom rode that toy down the driveway too). And it was pen pals with snail mail and waiting for the postman to come.
You were at the mercy of whatever the TV networks decided to air. You didn’t like what was on, you either lumped it or read a book. Phone conversations were scratchy at best and, in some areas, party lines were still a thing. There were phone boxes on every street corner, and cash paid for everything.
The concept of cell phones didn’t exist in my youth. Car phones were for the rich only. The internet was this unheard-of thing, and modems required you to place the handset from the phone onto this chunky device with pulses and high-pitched noises going down the phone line.
Video calls and streaming your favorite show to a handheld device wirelessly was something seen only in science fiction. Genetic modification of human embryos was the source of freaky war storylines from Star Trek. Yet, here we are.
Science fiction has become science fact. (And yes, genetic modification of human embryos is now science fact.)
Yeah, the world I grew up in is definitely gone, but there will always be those who wish we could go back to the way things were. Their reasoning is often linked to some comment as to how out of touch with the rest of the world the next generation has become—how the next generation is so caught up in an internet world that they're missing the life in the local neighborhoods. In some aspects, I agree with them. But while I would love to cling to those go-outside aspects of the world that have vanished without me even noticing, there are other aspects of this new internet-based world that I have openly embraced and would never look back.
But these changes that I see in my world and in myself, was it really just technology that brought them on? Have we, as a society, really changed all that much?
Has our new level of technology brought about a level of disconnect between the generations that wasn't there before?
The technological advancements of my youth.
I’d like to think that I’m not that old. I’ll admit it, I’m 46, born in the US summer of 1976. I guess that does make me middle-aged. And the fact that both of my children will be eligible to vote in the next national elections doesn’t help with the not-that-old argument.
For those of you now looking at my profile picture… Yes, that really is me, and no, it’s not an old photo. My current profile photo used for my various social media profile photos (not shown above) was taken in April of 2020. And the photo I used before that (shown above on the left) was taken in December 2014. (I think I’ve aged really well, if I do say so myself.) Most adults don't actually age that much within a span of five years. Sure, my hair is now blond and short, but I actually look much the same as I did back in 2014. I just happen to look young for my age, not that I have a clue what my age is supposed to look like. But at least once a week, I encounter someone who struggles to believe that I have adult children. Never mind that I struggle to believe it too, but for entirely different reasons.
Where did my little man go? And when did my baby girl turn into a woman? But I digress.
Growing up, technology was always in the house, and I mean cutting-edge technology.
Dad was a computer programmer, back when computer programming was something done on punch cards. Let me tell you… While the punch cards do make pretty origami papers, months of work can easily go down the drain when a single punch card is out of order.
Oops… Sorry, dad!
But the world of punch cards was quickly replaced with Fortran, Basic, and Pascal. The mainframe machines were replaced with banks of desktop computers, and the odd machine would come home with dad from work.
I remember when the monitors went from those green block cursors to the high-resolution color screens. The 5 1/4" floppies were quickly replaced with 3 1/2" floppies, then came the hard drives that made one hell of a racket when they whirred into life. My high school English assignments were printed out on a dot matrix (I still have some of those assignments somewhere), and when the bubble jet came out, we all stood amazed at the quality of the printed color photos (which by today's standards is entirely pathetic).
I remember the first laptops and I have very distinctive memories of the "Brick" cell phone — and how I wanted to throw my boyfriend's Brick out the window as we were driving down the motorway. (It was worse than a stupid pager, and so NOT a romantic table decoration.)
The internet and email became a part of my everyday life while I was studying for my Bachelors. I had started university forced to do all my research using books from the library, but at some point in those three years (yes, I did my Bachelors in three years), life had changed, and we would get notices and new assignments from our lecturers via email. By the time I had finished my PhD (back in 2009), handouts from lectures and tutorial assignments on paper were a thing of the past.
My everyday lingo had taken a turn that my mother could no longer understand. At times, my parents would look at me and wonder exactly who I was. In many ways, there was a disconnect that had developed between us and none of us remember it happening.
My mother had gone back to university herself (she was studying for her Bachelors while I was in getting a Masters) and I had to spend a significant amount of time helping her get her head around the new technology that she was required to use everyday within her studies. Her everyday lingo had transformed to envelope some of my everyday lingo, bridging the gap between us.
But we delved into a world that my parents didn't recognize anymore, even though my own father was part of the efforts to bring the modern technology about.
A little side note about my father's involvement in our current technology.
Most credit cards today have a computer chip in them (at least the ones in New Zealand do). But what people don't realize is that New Zealand was actually the first country in the world to get that technology.
We had it in 1987.
How do I know this? Because that chip-in-the-credit-card technology was what brought my family to New Zealand in the first place. My father was one of the computer programmers on the project.
We immigrated to New Zealand for that project specifically. My parents just decided they liked New Zealand so much that we never went back to the States.
Is the disconnect between generations technology driven?
While there was a level of disconnect that had developed between my parents and myself when I was in my late teens / early twenties, which ironically happened to coincide with the widespread usage of the internet and email in my everyday life, I don't think you can say that technology was at fault.
Let's jump back a generation.
My mother was a pseudo-hippie, graduating high school only the year before I was born, and dad literally did steal from the cradle, being ten years older than mom. But my mother was a teenager during the Vietnam War. My father was one of many who was drafted into the US Army at the time—and he did fight in the war.
If you want to talk about a disconnect between generations, try to image what it would have been like to be forced to fight in a police action, with zero veteran rights when you came home, when your parents were babies and young children the last time your country saw war on the scale of Vietnam. That was not technology that generated that generational disconnect. It was the circumstances of the world.
My grandparents saw the birth of nuclear weaponry in their youths. My father was a wee thing when color TV became a reality. My mother wasn't even a teenager yet when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. And war changed everything in their worlds.
We can try to blame technology for the disconnect between generations, but I think the real source of disconnect stems from the youth embracing the truths of the world that they live in and trying to make their own stamp on it—and the previous generation refusing to let them.
My father and other Vietnam vets like him were treated so badly when they came home. "It was a police action and not a war," never mind that it's an estimated 200,000 US soldiers who died in Vietnam. "It's an honor to serve your country," yet none of them actually got a say in it. They were drafted.
Don't get me wrong. My father looks back at his time in the US Army with fondness and respect, and I admire all those men and women who have the guts to volunteer to serve in the military (regardless of the branch). But when one generation has no clue what the next generation is going through… When one generation tells the next that they don't have a say in how they live or die…
The shift of power in the generations.
It's my parent's generation who currently has dominant control over the worldwide political arena. Their parents are all either dead or dying. But as my parent's generation moves into retirement age (dad is well-and-truly already there, but unfortunately my mother died of a heart attack back in 2020 before hitting retirement age), it is my generation who is starting to take the reins. But even now, you can see how the ideals and philosophies of my generation are clashing with the generation before us.
Climate change. World economics. Finite fossil fuels. Global telecommunications. Space travel. Public health. Wars. Police powers. Women's rights. Diversity. Acceptance. Sexuality. And the list goes on.
While the shift in technology has given a voice to those previously unheard, allowing certain issues to be shifted out of the closet and onto the world stage, it's not technology alone that separates the generations.
It's the shape of the family unit. It's economics. It's education. It's global interactions and the growth of social circles. And yes, it is technology.
Soon my children will be wanting to have their voices heard, making their own stamp on the world that they live in. Already, I can see the disconnect forming, where I struggle to understand their everyday lingo. While some of that disconnect has come from the way in which they use social media and the internet, in many ways, it's just them transitioning from children to adults.
For those who insist on clinging onto a world that doesn't exist anymore, blaming the internet for the world's problems and the disconnect between generations, take a step back and look at the generations before you. What happened in their lives that shifted mindsets and perceptions? Think about the disconnect that your parents and grandparents had with the generations before them. Perhaps then you'll understand.
We may not speak the same lingo, but the next generation is doing exactly the same thing that we did, and we did exactly the same thing that our parents did. They're just trying to shape the world to how they think it should be. The question is: when will we let them?