the digital divide: the internet as rock and roll
"It’s been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years—you have to go back to the early years of rock and roll," writes Emily Nussbaum in her excellent piece for New York Magazine. She is, of course, discussing the ways in which the current teenage generation interacts with new media, referring primarily to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and their spin-offs like Flickr. Nussbaum notes:
The article points three major changes that define the Internet generation. First, they think they have an audience. "In essence, every young person in America has become, in the literal sense, a public figure. And so they have adopted the skills that celebrities learn in order not to go crazy: enjoying the attention instead of fighting it—and doing their own publicity before somebody does it for them."
More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would—and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy. From their perspective, it’s the extreme caution of the earlier generation that’s the narcissistic thing. Or, as Kitty [one of the young, hip subjects of the article] put it to me, “Why not? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Twenty years down the road, someone’s gonna find your picture? Just make sure it’s a great picture.”
Second, they have documented every step of their adolescence. Nussbaum interviews one Caitlin Opperman, who is probably getting excited that she just got linked to in yet another blog. Yes, I looked at her website. This high school senior has been blogging, sharing photos, and networking since before age 12. Her digital life is a clear extension (and enhancement) of her flesh-and-blood experiences. On a recent trip to New York City, "Oppermann met dozens of people she already knew, or who knew her, from online. All of which means that her memories of her time in New York are stored both in her memory...and on her site...giving her (and me) an unsettlingly crystalline record of her seventeenth summer."
Finally, Nussbaum points out that today's youth has thicker skin then the old folks who just don't get it. "There’s a difference between being able to absorb embarrassment and not feeling it. But we live in a time in which humiliation and fame are not such easily distinguished quantities. And this generation seems to have a high tolerance for what used to be personal information splashed in the public square."
Wow--so the Internet generation has collectively huge balls. Check it:
Well, I write for a blog, so you know which side I'm on. The real beauty of this article is that it totally skips the fear-mongering usually assosciated with stories about the Internet generation and social networking. Instead of the usual "your children are going to get anally raped by a gang of transvestites" crap, Nussbaum provides a deft analysis of a very clear digital divide between generations. Gawker points out, however, that she sort-of kind-of already wrote this article for the New York Times Magazine. Oh well, I've reused one of my better international studies papers for at least three different classes. Oh wait, should I write that? Someone might read it....
Right now the big question for anyone of my generation seems to be, endlessly, “Why would anyone do that?” This is not a meaningful question for a 16-year-old. The benefits are obvious: The public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper with friends. And, yes, there are all sorts of crappy side effects: the passive-aggressive drama (“you know who you are!”), the shaming outbursts, the chill a person can feel in cyberspace on a particularly bad day. There are lousy side effects of most social changes (see feminism, democracy, the creation of the interstate highway system). But the real question is, as with any revolution, which side are you on?