Here are some important facts about me: I A. don’t have a smart phone, B. don’t have a Mac and C. still take handwritten notes in class. And fine, I’ll admit that every single app on my iPod touch (except Tap Tap) was downloaded by my 12-year-old sister. My sister also informed me that it could surf the web — something I learned after months of using it. Needless to say, I don’t consider myself particularly tech savvy.
I guess I might be the odd one out (Although I’ve come a long way from my early days as an iPod owner — really!) because our generation is supposedly uber-connected, plugged-in and, above all, handy with gadgets, gizmos and anything internet-related. In the Pew Research Center’s latest February report on millennials (the cohort who came of age post-2000 and was born from 1980 to 2000), our top reason for considering ourselves unique from other age groups is “technology.” But I don’t really buy that reason.
True, we may be the generation who is most online or on our smart phones, but that’s because it was easier for us to learn how. As Engineering junior Yiyi Zhou pointed out, kids use technology even more today than we did growing up.
“I, for one, didn’t start using the internet regularly until sixth grade, and I didn’t own a cellphone until eighth grade,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Just think of how many middle schoolers use MySpace or Facebook regularly, and how many websites/online educational activities are geared toward elementary-school children.”
It makes sense that we — and especially younger members of our generation — have come to see technology as an integral part of our lives. But older adults use technology and social networking more these days as well. And many members of our generation in other parts of the world and even in this country don’t have regular computer access, making it even harder to characterize our cohort in terms of technology.
The other big problem with this definition is young people like myself. I’ve had my fair share of exposure to technology, and I’d say it’s a useful and important part of my life, but as I mentioned before, I don’t have a real affinity for it. I’d gauge myself as maybe slightly behind some of my peers, but not too far beyond an older adult (at least not one who’s younger than 60). And I’m sure I’m not the only 20 year old with such humble technological prowess.
“I know people who can’t live without their smartphone and I know people who refuse to sign up for Facebook,” wrote Zhou.
Generalizing across generations can absolutely be helpful in defining trends and making societal predictions, but not everyone under 30 is constantly glued to a screen. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that technology is an integral part of our lives, but it doesn’t change us fundamentally from older people.
Our digital expertise doesn’t mean we’re better suited to learn and express ourselves through YouTube videos rather than old fashioned writing or presentations. And it doesn’t mean that just because we join Facebook groups promoting certain causes or follow non-profits on Twitter that we’re a more altruistic bunch of people. Such affiliation is superficial, and being well-informed about things does not mean we’ll necessarily take any action. Technology is a tool — not an identity, and information is meaningless without a motive or conviction to use it.
I think it’s great that high-school students can submit videos in their college admissions essays at Tufts University. And it would be convenient for professors to tweet about relevant information for classes. But there’s a difference between having more options for self-expression and information and using digital skill as an identity. Maybe we should try defining ourselves in terms other than bytes.
Katherine Rea is a College junior from Saratoga, Calif. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rea-lity Check appears on Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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