Technology is ever-evolving; each year, new products hit the shelves to replace the outdated technology from the year prior (that still works perfectly). Apps, websites, a world of knowledge and cat pictures, an inescapable matrix of information and misinformation. It’s challenging to thrive in this new world without learning how to utilize technology, no matter how curmudgeonly and surly you count yourself. Learning how to navigate the treachery online is just as critical. The murky waters of the digital age have brought new dangers into every facet of our world.
I’m part of a generation that experienced the technological revolution from a unique perspective. Although the following generation are referred to as digital natives, they need a new term; digital natives is a description that matches my generation more-so.
The word native means, “of indigenous origin or growth.” Yes, people are currently being born and raised with technology, which is why they tend to take this title. However, the term growth is what sets my generation apart and makes us the true digital natives. As we grew, so did this technology. We were among the first to experiment with this new age, explore the internet, build communities of anonymous, like-minded others. While our parents were older, wiser, and, therefore, more leary of this new reality, not to mention too busy working and raising us to fully delve into the internet, we dove right in, much to their dismay. Our grandparents, for the most part, were even more hesitant to fully explore this new world after living their lives thus far without needing it. I’ve written before about the concept of postmodernism, which is skepticism caused by access to a plethora of information. My generation’s world view has been molded by our experience growing up in the digital revolution.
We evolved alongside the technology. I remember when cell phones were bricks, watching them shrink, change shape, become colorized, the amazement I felt when I realized I could access a website from a cell phone. I remember watching as youth owning cell phones went from a rarity to something completely normalized.
I remember older computers, with floppy disk drives and Oregon trail. I remember having to wait until your parents made their phone calls to unplug the phone line, plug in and dial up the internet, and pray it was fast enough to be of use. I remember AIM, MSN, and Yahoo messenger, the original texting, youth’s first foray into social media. I remember Myspace, most of our first experience playing around with html to make our page represent our personality.
Technology was evolving alongside myself, and I felt very comfortable with each stepping stone, progressing to where I am in modern day, at home with technology, a true digital native. I know how to navigate the internet carefully.
My career as a teacher is what has molded my understanding of this liminal space. While one would expect that students would know much more about technology than their teachers, it’s not entirely true. Don’t get me wrong – they do, to a degree. Many of them are the future hackers of America. They know all about VPN, avoiding the school internet and cell phone blocks. They know this or that app. They are knowledgeable about the mechanics of technology. They were raised figuring out how to manipulate Mom’s iPad and laptop, the list goes on. Where they fall short, however, is understanding how much misinformation lives on the internet, how to sift through credible and non-credible sources.
Before the last year ended, I heard a buzz amongst the students “have you heard the news?” “Yeah, man, I heard!” I could see (some students) celebrating, but it was very hush hush. I asked a trusted student what was going on, and he showed me an article from a website called React365.com that stated marijuana was legalized in Texas. I asked him if he believed the article, and he said yeah, that everyone did. I took a few minutes to show him how to evaluate if the source was credible, which it wasn’t (a cursory glance at the homepage of React365 revealed that it’s a website dedicated to “pranking your friends.”) He seemed genuinely surprised by a skepticism of the internet that comes so easily to me. I never take anything I read to be fact. I’m always looking for additional sources to credit and discredit what it is I’m researching. Eventually, I created a whole lesson, citing this rumor as an example, of how quickly misinformation can be spread on the internet, and many of my students had believed the rumor that whole time based on reading (likely the title) of one article. It’s scary, really.
We see this phenomenon all of the time on Facebook, too. Facebook is where I tend to see the other side of the liminal space. Too often I see obviously contrived stories spread like wildfire, and the comments section rings with people and their pitchforks. “People hiding HIV in bananas!” “OMG (they tag their friend, Suzie) I BOUGHT BANANAS YESTERDAY.” “(Suzie:)I just threw mine out!” People, adults even, read an article, or (worse) just the title, and take it as fact. Dissemination of misinformation has become so commonplace that the website has been under a microscope for affecting the outcome of the election. We are in a time and space where even our political spectrum is easily manipulated by misinformation on the internet, and that is not a partisan issue; there is misinformation rampant on all sides.
Now, I’ve generalized in this blog, and I’m aware of that. There are always outliers, anomalies. I know there are people of all ages using technology carefully, correctly.
I do, however, hold a belief that my generation, those who grew up alongside the technological enlightenment, have a unique experience and way of interacting with the internet. We don’t remember life entirely before technology, so we didn’t experience the hesitancy to embrace it that left many in previous generations somewhat behind, technologically. Conversely, we weren’t raised with advanced technology, so it’s not normalized, but still somewhat mystifying as it continues, even now, to evolve. I am always amazed by how far technology continues to grow, remembering back to all of the phases along the way, and curious to see what the future of the enlightenment holds.