Way Back When (pt. 1)

The truth of the matter is that I am part of the millennial generation. Better said, I was born in the heart of the millennial generation. Ever since that term has been implemented more and more sociologically and as a common phrase in the contemporary english vernacular, I have fought against it. In many ways, I am not a run-of-the-mill millennial person. In other ways, I undeniably am — a perfect product of the times. I can argue with anyone until I lose my voice about what millennial means and what’s wrong with us and great and everything in between. But there is one point I make that is never refuted, and that is that I was part of the last real era of millennials to enjoy the real world before the most socially prolific advancement in human history: The world wide web for the fast, easy, infinite, and ultra-accessible use for the common person, the techno-revolution thereof, and the social network. I’ll be so bold as to suggest that the biggest turning point humanity has made in the post-industrial age is Facebook, and I am among the last to know life without it.

I take a lot of pride in this. Why? Because it is one of the few truths that keep me connected to a simpler time completely unknown, uninteresting, and irrelevant to the youth of the present day. I still grew up in the late 1990s and 2000s. We had internet (though slow and tedious dial-up). We had video games. Cell phones were becoming normal — for calling, mostly. We had satellite TV with what seemed like an infinite number of channels. I didn’t grow up in the ‘40s and ‘50s. But, there were no social networks, and because of this, several elements of our culture remained the same as the good old days.

I remember the advent of the flatscreen TV. I remember when the caller ID console became available. I remember when we got our first cordless home phone with a caller ID built into the tiny on-board screen. If a cell phone was had it was usually just one of the adults in the household. So as kids we called each other’s houses. You called your friends at their houses. These days even land lines are a thing of the past.

Because of Instagram and the photo-posting world we have lived in, I sometimes find myself upset about not having photos of certain people, places, experiences, or events from my childhood. But then I remember…in 1998 or 2001 or whenever, we weren’t carrying around SLR-caliber cameras and HD video capability in our pockets 24/7. We couldn’t capture everything like we can now. People actually saw things with their own eyes with the one and only intent to experience it. There was no “quick I missed it do it again! (so I can post this on Facebook).” Many childhood memories and experiences are now kept solely in the minds and memories of those of us who were there. There are no posts, no photos, no live feeds or tweets stored in vast cyber clouds. Just life. And each of us saw the entire thing in real time. If you missed it, it sucked but at the same time people could tell you the story in their own words and you could live it for yourself as if you were there with them — all through the lost art of interpersonal conversation. That imagination is missing in the kids of today. Oh and FOMO wasn’t a thing, either.

The advent of Facebook in 2004 was one of if not the push of the domino effect still toppling even now. Facebook connects people in a personal way, non-personally. You could see pictures, statuses, locations, like pages, play games, take funny quizzes and post about what Rugrats character you would be based on six obnoxiously vague questions about personality. But you were limited to the internet connection and your laptop or desktop, and before long people wanted it on the go. They wanted everything they loved on the go. And though any devices 15+ years old improved mobile technology, the iPhone and iPod Touch devices changed the game with large, open, totally touch-sensitive devices with second-to-none ease of use. Other manufacturers quickly followed, and now that’s all there is (the new release of the beloved Nokia 3310 excepted). But once the world got tired of 3.5” (?) screens, we demanded large format. The mobile “tablet” was conceived and marketed as such. You now had everything you wanted at the touch of a button. In your car, office, church, and even your bed — now all wirelessly connected to your mega-high-speed home internet connection called WiFi with ample bandwidth. And you don’t even need your reading glasses, a PhD in electrical engineering, or be employed at NASA to do it! This about represents the 2010s to a T.

The children of today receive tablets and smartphones for Christmas. They are used as pacifiers by parents equally absorbed in their own devices — connected to the world, yet disconnected from their own children. When I was a kid and my mom took us to the park it was always, “How long can we stay?” Nowadays children ask, “Is there WiFi? Service? Do you have data?” The strict media regimen that made up my weeknights as a kid included The Magic School Bus, Arthur, Bill Nye The Science Guy, and ZOOM on PBS. In that order. There was no DVR, no rewinding, and no infinite streaming of “other titles I would like.” In the morning it was Sesame Street, and I learned stuff about humanity.

Though parents are primarily to blame for this complete demise of the quintessential American childhood, my point is the kids. Put simply, kids of today and the future are missing out. They are missing out on the exploration. The danger. The new things and the imagination. Nowadays the youth have infinite content at their fingertips, whereas we created our own. The kids that do still live that way do so still in an entirely different spirit. Where kids now have the option between getting out and starting a street hockey game using nothing but building materials or binge watching Stranger Things in their rooms on their tablets, in my day we had no such choice. We had no clue we were missing anything, and frankly there was nothing to miss. We just played.

I lived the last of the simpler times. Within not two years of this explosion of internet communication technology, I had a flip phone. I had an e-mail address, an eBay account, Napster, MSN Messenger, and played Mario Kart against people on the other side of the globe online. Facebook was only available to college students at first, but when the network became universal, you can bet I signed up immediately. And, like most everyone else since, the way I live, think, communicate, buy, critique, reason, indulge, and a thousand other verbs, has changed. Many for the better, many for the worse. But this is the world that we live in, and it is what it is.

But I remember life without it, and it was good too. I feel blessed to have these modern tools at my finger tips on my iPhone. Navigation, music, anything and everything as long as I’m in range. But I feel even more blessed to have known life without it. I am part of a special group of humans unlike most others…I literally have had the best of both worlds. The quintessential go-lucky childhood and then a spot on the vanguard of a social revolution via the internet. What a life folks, what a life.

I don’t know what type of humans the children of today will become. I don’t know how they will think or lead or innovate. I don’t know what specific challenges they will have. I’m sure they’ll be fine. After all, someone thirty years ago was saying the same thing about me, and others about them. All I know is this: When I see kids running through sprinklers or riding foldable scooters to unknown adventures in the safety of their American neighborhoods under the watchful yet permissive eye of an engaged parent, I smile. Good times.

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