“Just find some high school kid.”
Do you hear that as often as I do? Somebody wants a blog, they need a Facebook page, or they’re looking for help picking out a new gadget. Almost invariably (if the conversation’s participants were born before 1970 or so), somebody will say “Just find some high school kid to do it for you.”
This isn’t bad advice, if you just need a quick solution or you want something set up that you won’t have to use or change. However, there is one important thing that you don’t get if you “Just find some high school kid.”
Well, you do get a perspective on setting up a blog, but it’s the perspective of someone who has never known a world without the Internet. You can get a quick-fix answer on choosing a digital camera, but your adviser may not even know that cameras once took film. What you get is the innate knowledge of a young person who is immersed in technology, but what you miss is the ability to understand why you would want to use that technology — other than purely because it exists.
Now, before you get too far into thoughts of labeling me a curmudgeon or picture me as a grumpy old man, I’m 28 years old. That may count as an old man if you are in high school, but to most people, I’m considered one of those “young tech guys.” What I’ve noticed lately, though, is that being at the high end of the “young tech guys” age spectrum has been an unexpected advantage when dealing with people who aren’t as comfortable with technology because of their age.
I’m not claiming that my few extra years has given me some knowledge or wisdom that a 24-year-old wouldn’t have. Instead, I want to argue that I have important experience that a younger person is lacking — but it’s experience that I acquired before the age of 10.
In the year 2000, Neil Howe and William Strauss published a book where they called the generation born in or after 1982 “Millennials.” Others have called people in that same demographic Digital Natives — making everyone else Digital Immigrants. These young people have always had robust information and communication technologies at their fingertips. In fact, some of them have no concept of a world without that access.
Because I was born in 1980, I’m more like the immigrant who came to their new land as a child, retaining some of the old customs and ways, but also assimilating into a new way of life. In other words, I remember what the world was like before cell phones (or call waiting), and I remember when getting five hours per month of dial-up access to AOL was exciting.
Mine is the last generation who will be able to answer the question “What was it like before the Internet?” Besides making me feel old, this puts me in an ideal position to bridge the gap between true digital natives and the generations who can feel truly uncomfortable with some of these technologies.
Lately, I’ve been working with more digital immigrants on projects of all sizes, and I’ve been surprised by something. The perspective I get from remembering the time when long-distance calls were expensive and people had to think about whether they would have use for a computer is an advantage when relating to these people. In fact, it is reassuring to them that I can understand why someone would want to know how a technology will be useful to them before they jump into it with both feet.
I know that this isn’t solely because of my age, but I do think the transition during which I grew up helps quite a bit. I can approach a technology from both sides: the skeptic and the evangelist.
Are you in my generation? Do you work with someone who is? If so, do you think that being a “Pre-Millennial” is an advantage, or am I just biased by being one of the people I’m writing about? Please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments.