The culture of the digital age matured as you did. It took it’s first steps into functioning adulthood at the same time as you. As time went on, more and more of everyday life became digitized. You are the trial run generation. You weren’t raised before it or after it, but during it. You were the first to nose dive into social media without a handbook or sage wisdom on how to not make a fool of yourself for the whole world to see. Nobody told you how to stay connected to people in an age where we’re more connected and more disconnected than ever before. Nobody taught you how to network and make your life through the invisible underground pit of everything we have at our fingerprints. Maybe they were afraid of it. Maybe you are too. Because you are the generation writing this rule book, and the only way it can be done is by doing.
You’re looking for your first post-grad job. You search online. You apply there too. Nobody tells you how crucial it is to pick up the phone or write a physical letter that can’t get deleted with a click. A piece of paper that will sit on that employer’s desk and tell them that you care just a little bit more than the other contenders. A piece of paper that gives you another chance, between the time that employer opens it up and walks to the garbage to shred it, to think about your potential for a few seconds longer. Sometime after you’re employed, you’ll have this explained to you. It will make sense. You’ll revert to the “old fashioned” ways of person-to-person business. You’ll doubt media for a bit. Your views will change.
You sift through your every day life with your smartphone in hand, looking down at news feeds and status updates, rather than up at cities and people and events. You look up once in a while, and see everybody else doing the same. You may realize that even though they have in their hands little machines spoon feeding them the world, it’s a secondary account. The revolution that changes humanity, on a person-to-person level, will not be available for live streaming. You may realize this. You may not.
You go to concerts and around you you’ll see people holding up iPhones and Androids, capturing the moment as though doing so is the only reason they’re there. You’ll wonder if they can really see what’s happening between their arms, raised to record the show. You’ll go to a few parties where everybody is on a smartphone. You’ll understand the frustration of talking to a friend who is more preoccupied by it than your conversation. You’ll be asked to take pictures, and to pose so someone can upload some documented proof to Instagram that you were indeed having a great time. Maybe that person is you. A few “likes” later, you feel like you accomplished something that evening.
You’ll fall in love, and think that it’s real because you declared it so on a social network. It will end. Your status will change. You’ll realize you’ve allowed the whole world to receive notifications regarding your personal life, and you’ve subsequently given them the ability to comment on it, publicly, as well. If you think about it too much, that makes you uneasy. You’ll miss your ex. You’ll spend hours watching them plaster their happiness online for all to see, especially you, and you’ll sit in these dark corners of the Internet because they’re fascinating. They hurt, but not as much as they compel you to keep looking. You see what you otherwise wouldn’t. You un-friend them. You friend them again eventually. You post more pictures of yourself looking happy.
You’ll want to date again. You’ll sign up for a website that does that for you. You’ll peruse profiles of people like you’re online shopping, choosing a partner based off of how they look and what accomplishments and bragging rights they have. This is not human connection. You’ll realize that eventually. It might work out for you and the person you found online. It might not.
You’ll advance at your job. You’ll realize that the parades of people older than you who told you that the digital age would be the next cultural world order were right. You start learning about digital marketing and web presence and advertising and social media, because these are how businesses run now. You’ll wish someone taught you that in school. You’ll realize why you they didn’t: because your professors didn’t know. You’ll shake your head. Your views will change.
You’ll realize that there are more and more jobs opening up for media positions because that’s what the world runs on now. If you’re me, you’ll realize because these things are so popular, you can have a whole career based off of writing for them. Writing that has nothing to do with quality. Writing that has everything to do with appeal. You’ll think it’s fantastic. But you’ll realize that you’re only ever at the whim of what the rest of the world wants, like you are with every other part of the digital age. If you’re me, you’ll be at a constant standstill between writing what you want and writing what will get page views. If you’re anybody else, you’ll see how that concept applies to your own life and business and online presence, and you’ll understand. Because that is how we commensurate success now. Other people’s opinions matter more than they ever did.
You’ll settle down, or you’ll watch your friends do so. You’ll get married, or plan to, and post photos and updates and videos constantly about it. It’s exciting. It’s the best proof that you’re loved and successful. You’ll have a wedding website. You’ll have a photo shoot for your engagement. You’ll post those online too. You might realize that nobody cares but a few of your close friends, but you might not. You may carry on like this forever, and your whole life will be nothing more than doing things for the sake of how they appear. You’ll get cynical. You’ll get off every one of those websites.
You’ll find your way back. People won’t think you exist without them.
One day, out of boredom, you’ll click on a link someone shared with you. Something will make you laugh or think or want to re-share as well, and you’ll tack on another must-view site for each day. You’ll fill your days with these. You’ll follow them on Twitter. That feed will become your personalized morning news. Your whole world will be tailored to your liking.
Your person will be defined by a 140 character box in which you will fill in a few adjectives/adverbs to describe yourself. Sometimes in those boxes, you’ll have to check other details that will allow the world to sum you up neatly. You will declare where you’re from and what you do and where you went to school. You will check a box for your sexual orientation.
There is no spectrum for anything online. You just are or you aren’t.
You’ll petition for something on change.org. You’ll follow things as they happen in real time. You’ll watch world events unfold like you never could before, with visuals and first-hand accounts, all at your fingertips. You’ll realize that the power of our interconnections could be used for great societal advancement, and you’ll get stoked about it. You’ll also be exposed to ignorance like never before. You’ll realize that the internet is a cess pool. It might make you want to do something about it.
You’ll find a cause you’re passionate about. You’ll write comments and emails and Tweets and link back to things even if you dislike them– especially if there is a shock factor. You’ll feel empowered for raising awareness. You won’t realize that at the end of the day, people may know your name, and they may know your cause, but they will definitely know the person’s your talking about. You’ll realize that the new measurement of success is page views, and likes, and follows, because that equates to money that can be made off of advertising and such and so every single time you put your energy into clicking or viewing or sharing or commenting on something, whether it’s positive or not, you are supporting that person or thing. You may not realize this, and continue on blindly, while the puppeteers of the world guide you without your knowing.
What you realize is that nothing is about what it is anymore, but what it looks like. That disconnecting is more important than it ever was before. That we can’t sacrifice what our human bodies need for what we can find instantly online. That our most human desires are fed by a news feed and a drive for acceptance measured by fans. We realize it means nothing. We fall back into the ways our parents and professors taught us. We’re writing the handbook, and this is it.
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