Monday, May 25, 2015

Technology And This 80's Baby

Why 80's Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials: This PopSugar post has been shared on my Facebook feed many times this week. This 80's Baby was all over that title before I even got to the article, because hello, duh, of course we're different (AND SPECIAL. AND UNIQUE.) You must never link me, of the DuckTales generation, to kids born in the Quack Pack era, because riots will ensue.

Actually, the article originally came from, with a comparatively boring title: The Oregon Trail Generation: Life Before And After Mainstream Tech.

Whatever name it's got, I thought I'd use the article to share some of my own experiences of growing up in this strange period of time.

If you can distinctly recall the excitement of walking into your weekly computer lab session and seeing a room full of Apple 2Es displaying the start screen of Oregon Trail, you’re a member of this nameless generation, my friend.

My first computer lab experience was actually with a roomful of Commodore 64s, not Apple IIs. Our elementary school had ONE Apple computer... this arrived around 1988-89, maybe. Our librarian was the one who taught us such necessary skills as "dragging" and "dropping." (Not to be confused with the ever-important "Stop, Drop, and Roll.")

Oregon Trail was around in middle school, I remember, but the game that got me the most excited of all was Sim City. Give me floods and tornadoes over snakebites and cholera any day.

Did you come home from middle school and head straight to AOL, praying all the time that you’d hear those magic words, “You’ve Got Mail” after waiting for the painfully slow dial-up internet to connect?  If so, then yes, you are a member of the Oregon Trail Generation.  And you are definitely part of this generation if you hopped in and out of sketchy chat rooms asking others their A/S/L (age/sex/location for the uninitiated).

We did the AOL Free Trial when I was in 9th grade. It was only "free" for so many hours; then you got charged. (Woe the day my parents got that bill in the mail.) In 10th and 11th grade, we had Compuserve, the scruffy cousin of AOL. On both services, you got 10-20 hours free per month, but then paid $2 an hour thereafter. Finally, in 1997, AOL began offering unlimited use internet, and we switched to that for the next decade.

I did pop into a few chatrooms during those early days. One laughable memory: me PMing (IMing? What did we even call it then?) my home address to a young man, because I wanted to stay in contact with him (through letters) and I had to get offline rightthatsecond. (I never did get a letter from the fellow.)

We were the first group of high school kids to do research for papers both online and in an old-fashioned card catalogue....

Making this transition was a bit annoying, actually. I was quite adept at using the card catalog. Why mess with a good thing?

Speaking of research papers, there was this terribly awkward period during which teachers would tell us that our papers had to be typed, yet to do that required either using an electric typewriter, having a computer at home with a printer that hadn't run out of ink, or staying after school to use the computer lab (which was impossible if you were a bus rider, like me.) This caused lots of stress.

By the time I was in college, they were beginning to explore the option of turning your paper in via email or via a flash drive.

For today's kids, Google Drive saves the day.

The importance of going through some of life’s toughest years without the toxic intrusion of social media really can’t be overstated.  Myspace was born in 2003 and Facebook became available to all college students in 2004.  So if you were born in 1981-1982, for example, you were literally the last graduating class to finish college without social media being part of the experience.

It's true that Facebook was born after I graduated college. But social media was still in place. We may not have had Facebook, but we did have group emails and group chatrooms, IRC (internet relay chat) and plenty of message boards where we talked about any and all of our interests. I had a personal website, a "Home Page" as it was sometimes referred to, where I had my photo and information about me. Honestly, by the time Facebook did rear its head, linking everyone together, my reaction was basically: "Well, it's about time." (And then it was only available to college students for the first few years, and since I'd already graduated, I was shut out of Facebook then.)

When we get together with our fellow Oregon Trail Generation friends, we frequently discuss how insanely glad we are that we escaped the middle school, high school and college years before social media took over and made an already challenging life stage exponentially more hellish.

Indeed. In those days, I connected online with people from other cities, even other countries, but it was unlikely I'd ever connect with someone from my own school, save for my best friend at the time. We might act like immature jerks, but we were acting that way with people from Australia, so somehow it didn't seem to matter. (No offense meant, Australians.)

But unlike our older Gen X siblings, we were still young and dumb enough to get really into MySpace and Facebook in its first few years, so we understand what it feels like to overshare on social media and stalk a new crush’s page.

I came to the Facebook table a little late in the game (2007), but MySpace, oh, MySpace. How often did I sit around, rearranging my Top 8 Friends? Man.

This article neglects to mention LiveJournal or other blogging sites. From 2003-2007, "LJ" was my social media platform of choice.

Time after time, we late 70s and early 80s babies were on the cusp of changes that essentially transformed modern life and, for better or worse, it’s shaped who we are and how we relate to the world.

True enough, but honestly, I don't think our "changes" were as drastic as the ones experienced by the generation of kids currently going through school. 

A kid who's 16 now was born around 1998 or 1999, when her own parents possibly didn't have a cell phone yet... and if they did, it was one that made calls and maybe texted. Now, it's probable that this teenager not only has a cell phone of her own (and so do her parents) but that she has a phone that can take photos, browse the internet, and do so much more.

A kid who's 16 now probably had her baby photos taken with a film camera, her preschool-elementary school photos taken with a digital camera, and her most recent photos? Selfies. Thousands of selfies.

Kids nowadays have access to thousands of free games on the internet... available with just a click, and maybe a Flash update. Recently I was attempting to explain to some of my fifth-grade students how we used to "game" when we were their age. "So you'd take these six 5-inch floppy disks and install them one after another..."

With each generation, technology marches on. And thank goodness for that.

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