Millennials and Technology: It’s Complicated

A study in deductive reasoning:

The Media says that “All Millennials are technology-obsessed.”

I am a Millennial.

Therefore, I’m obsessed…right?

I’ve been trying to get into Twitter for a few years now, but so far, it’s failed to seduce me. 140 characters is Communist! And anyways, how is a tweet different from a Facebook status update? (don’t answer that…)

Truth is, I have enough trouble keeping up with just one social media channel, and all of my attempts to branch out from Facebook have sputtered and died. For me, social media falls into the category of “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!!!,” along with untying my gym shoes and flossing.

I was a perfectly happy one-profile woman until I was at a National Training & Development conference in Dallas last year; I sat through so many “social media is the future of learning” seminars that I decided it was time to adapt or die. Naturally, I bought a book about Twitter, because there’s nothing ironic about buying a paperback to inform oneself on how to use social media. I didn’t crack the book, but I did set up an account and tweet seven times in the first five months! (OK FINE—two of those were used to save a contestant on The Voice). What can I say? I couldn’t catch the bug bird.

Generally, I hate it when people use themselves as an example of why a widely-accepted stereotype isn’t true. Example: a woman ascends the corporate ladder and then declares that gender inequality in the workplace isn’t a thing. To be clear, I’m not saying that just because I’m not super connected, it proves that my generation isn’t obsessed with smart phones and social media. Let’s be real: Millennials get more screen time than Viagra commercials on the Golf Channel. This is not that kind of argument, but what I do question is the assumption that technology is my generation’s first language, and that we’ve all completely embraced the ramifications.

I started thinking about all of this the other day when my boyfriend made the well-worn observation that, “We’re so lucky to have grown up with [technology], because those that didn’t generally feel left behind.” Of course I agreed with him that yes, we are lucky; any Millennial who has ever tried to teach a parent how to use a smartphone, tablet, or e-reader does not take this for granted.

But there’s a difference between being technology-capable and being technology-fluent; it’s the same gap that exists between immersion and acceptance. It’s the difference between learning a language through study and growing up with it from birth.

We didn’t grow up with iPads in our cribs; Millennials remember what it was like B.F.– Before Facebook. We remember dial-up, answering machines, busy signals, licking stamps, putting an extra quarter in the payphone, and stretching the phone cord into the closet to get some darn privacy. I was in college when Facebook came out, and I remember having to select my school from a drop-down in order to join the club. So Millennials were just as amazed as the older generations when cell phones, tablets, and smart phones became ubiquitous. It wasn’t a given—something to be blasé about, like the latest iPhone release; these technologies represented a giant leap towards instant-gratification. We recalled the sound of dial-up internet struggling to connect…and it was Good.

But compared to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers, who were also there for the Silicon Valley phenomenon, growing up Millennial gave my generation a unique advantage: youth. Yes, we still had to learn the technology along with our older siblings and parents (hell-o Typing Class elective!), but we were at the perfect age to do it. We were sponges that didn’t have any hang-ups about New or Different. We picked up the technology and never let go (pun intended).

Even so, we were marked by our years in the B.F. Era. We did a lot of growing up when “social media” was a pen pal in Australia. That’s why I think of new-age technology as being a second language for my generation—familiar, yet still kind of foreign. And even though we’re living in the land of the free WIFI, once in a while even a Millennial will revert to the old tongue; we still write paper checks, listen to CDs, and use our refrigerator instead of a Pinterest board. I still feel like I should have some cash on me, you know, just in case.

When I think about my relationship with technology now, I know that it’s been colored by nostalgia; I get that this is an inevitable consequence of aging. Like the gray hairs I keep finding in my brush, it’s another in-my-face reminder that I’m way closer to 30 than 20. It’s a thing all generations have in common (“back in my day… [fill in the blank]”). I’m nostalgic for the days when I could plan to meet a friend and not get a text on the way (WHERE R U?) and a phone call upon arrival (I’M STANDING BY THE ENTRANCE! SEE ME WAVING??).

On the other hand, all of this dang-technology I’m griping about has enabled me and my lazy, entitled generation in so many ways. This blog, for starters. I also think about how much recruiting and job hunting have been transformed by the LinkedIn and CareerBuilders of the world. And I’m not afraid to admit that the cheeky monkey emoticon has brought a lot of joy into my life.

So what about the generations coming up…the 10-year-olds with Facebook accounts and smartphones? Will we call them technology-obsessed, or will it just be The Way of Life? Will patience still be a virtue? Will people be comfortable looking one another in the eye? Will be it a better life?

Older generations see us with our eyes glued to a screen and want to say that Millennials are married to technology. But the truth is, it’s a much more conflicted, much more complicated relationship.



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