I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about the difference between digital natives and everyone else. I would like to put forth another idea. There are not two polar opposites in terms of technological comfort. I believe the categories can best be determined by generations.
As we know, the kids of Generation Y are the digital natives. They have grown up in a world where digital is a household word. They have very little (if any at all) memory of not having a computer in the home, not having cable TV, not having CDs and such. As many others have pointed out, they are very comfortable with being plugged in all the time. Either to the internet, to their iPod, their handheld game, their cellphone. They are fine with being continuously available to the world.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the digital immigrants, the Baby Boomers. Many have computers in the home but use it as a tool similar to a screwdriver or hammer. It’s a means to an end. They use it to send emails, to balance accounts, to view pictures. They still prefer using a landline to talk rather than the internet or cellphone. Quite a few have become tech savvy and can use the tools but have trouble with the underlying concepts; web emails are stored on a web server and not on your computer. They also do not have a need to be plugged in at all. It’s not uncommon for them to wait weeks before checking their emails and very few have text messaging included in their cellular plan.
Then there’s Generation X. Generation X always seems to be left out of the picture, particularly in these articles. They a left out because they represent a small segment of the population and they do not fit either description. They were present for the digital transition but did not merely watch it like the Baby Boomers did. Generation X lived the transition. They were the ones who convinced the Baby Boomers that it was better to buy CDs. They were the ones to scream “I want my MTV”. They were the ones to experience the development of computers and software as they moved through school.
Technology for them has taken on a different meaning. They are fascinated with technology. They watched in awe at its development like watching a younger sibling grow up. Generation Y expect that technology should change. Baby Boomers are worried they can’t keep up or “What’s the point. Wasn’t just fine the way it was before?” Generation X is a blend of both the natives and the immigrants. For us, it is a tool but for more than daily tasks. We love experiencing the convenience that the technology offers. We enjoy the ability to communicate anyplace and anytime. And we are comfortable being plugged in, but not all the time. That is the contradiction of Generation X. As much as we like the convenience; we can not sustain the connection. After a while we need to separate ourselves from the world, to decompress and recharge for the next plug-in. We are comfortable with not checking our emails for two or three days; but not much longer than that. Then we start to feel jittery and worry who may be trying to get in touch with us. So we can’t stay continually connected as the younger generation, but we can’t stay away like the older ones.
So what do we call ourselves? We are not natives, but not immigrants either. Maybe these terms are not the ones to use. I propose some new labels. Baby Boomers are digital parents-they are the ones who gave birth and raised much of the technology we have today. Generation Y are digital children-of course they are the children of technology and know not a world without it. That then makes us, Generation X, digital siblings-we grew up and develop along side of the technology. By the fact that we have seen the progression from 8 track to cassette to CD to MP3 and can use them all, makes us a digital sibling. I realize that this term is not clever or sophisticated but neither is Generation Y. But it best describes our unique relationship with the technology of today.