Valentine: The digital generation gap

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

As a classroom instructor at Murray State, I am separated from my students by at least one generation. There is a gap in our experiences, in our expectations and in our perceptions of the universe, its contents and our place within it.

Despite the wide difference, both of us may be right, but neither of us knows which one is right, when or why.

It’s all very well for Old Fogies (my generation) to write off the differences by claiming wider experience and a longer occupancy on the planet.

We have lived much of the history that students are now trying to master, and we are proven survivors because we’re still here, at least physically.

The Young Fogies (the so-called Millennial Generation) can claim an intimate knowledge of what’s happening now.

They may not know that Truman preceeded Eisenhower in the Oval Office (or even that we one had a president named, “Harry”), but they know how to download time-saving apps that can alert them to the danger of near-earth asteroids. They can recite with ease the names of the several family members of Happy Bo Bo, or Homey Bun Bun (whatever: a tiny child whose chances of teaching in the classics department at Harvard appear to be growing smaller each day) or the most current of the addicting video games available on computers, iPads, cell phones or bathroom walls.

More to the point, they can access any bit (or byte, as the case may be) of information available on the World Wide Web before you can even frame the question.

This talent, coupled with youthful optimism and stamina, creates a dynamic force for good, rivaled only by Spiderman or the Calloway County Humane Society.

And thus it has always been.

Children who grew up in the age of public education had better reading and writing skills than illiterate or semi-literate parents.

The parents knew how to wring a chicken’s neck and pluck the bird clean on a Sunday morning, whereas the youth had to wait until Kroger was invented.

Comes now the digital divide, separating youth and maturity by more than mere years, wrinkles, grey hair and mutual funds.

The real problem is not that grandpa can’t tweet. He can, and retirees probably check Facebook more often than their digital descendants.

Uncle Dave can cell phone with the best of ‘em, and can take an embarrassing video of his neice at her wedding reception and post it to YouTube before you can say, “Uncle Dave! OMG!”

No, the real barrier between the generations is not capacity to communicate: it’s the sense of what ought to be communicated.

Too many Millennials see no problem with posting photos of a drunken bash at the Rho Rho Rho house, or tender moments involving “costume malfunctions.” One survey of Human Resources managers estimated that 15 to 20 percent of potential new hires were scratched off the list simply on the basis of a casual scan of some social network site.

And, “no,” that’s not against the law.

However, the lack of consciousness in using the power of digital is bleeding into the older generations. Murray State faculty are becoming desensitized to the bulk emails that arrive during a 10:30 a.m class informing them of the 3 p.m. reception for retiring Prof. Stumble.

The thinking seems to be, “If I can send it before the event, I’ve done my job.” That’s no more true than the student’s assumption that emailing a paper before midnight of the same day it was due at 10:30 a.m. is just as good as turning it in, in person, at the required time.

Both generations are wrong.

Communicating important matter appropriately takes time, even when the act of communication seems to require neither time nor thought. Technology can’t substitute for consideration nor common sense. Why, just this week I sent a congratulatory text to a friend who was celebrating a notable achievement.

I spoke my message to some elf named Siri, who lives in my cell phone, and she typed it in text. Sadly, the intended word “successful” appeared as “six cesspool.” Siri is not, apparently, a native speaker of English.

I tried to erase that odd sentiment, but accidentally hit the “send” instead of the “erase” button (which is not really a button at all). I have yet to hear from my six cesspool friend, and I think I know why. OMG and LOL, eh?

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it like a pixel to a TTFN (ta-ta for now).


Column by Robert Valentine, senior lecturer in advertising