— Cool Hand Luke. 1967.

I’m going to try something that I’m not very good at.  This post is about nuance and the gap between generations eras in communication.  Yesterday’s discussion with another blogger got sideways from the start, nearly all of it my fault, I believe.

In contemplating why over my morning tea, I was just gobsmacked at the change in communications and even perceptions of media importance among generations. So, I want to talk a little about how I see the gap and see if anyone is interested in helping me (us?) communicate better by helping understand better these differences.

My intent is not to cause dissent, to attack, or to criticize. My intent is to illuminate.  I approach this with trepidation because I am a blunt and plain-spoken person.  Midwestern plain-spokeness can be interpreted as rudeness, even when none is intended.  So, here I go and please don’t take offense as none is intended. Or if offense is taken, please be kind enough to point out why, in the cause of better understanding.

Cool Hand Luke hit the theaters in 1967.  To really understand that movie, you probably needed to be about 10 or so, making your birthday around 1957.  Today, someone who first saw Cool Hand Luke at the theaters would be in their mid-50s.  Those that age and older know that the line “What we got here is failure to communicate” became an instant classic.

Those born in 1967 and a few years after – in their 40s today – are not that much different than the earlier group.  We all learned to use typewriters, dial wired phones, send paper letters. In other words, our communications were physical.

We held newspapers, read magazines, checked out books at the library, marveled at all the colorful books in large bookstores. “News” was found in newspapers and on the evening news. And magazines like “LOOK.”  Until the widespread advent of cable, the entire nation watched the same three or four channels, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, if they were lucky enough to have all those in their area.  In my high school town, we received one distant network channel well and one sometimes sorta well.  Imagine!

When going to school or the coffee shop, the pharmacy or post office, everyone I saw had seen the same one channel’s nightly news.

Our music was on vinyl disks called “albums” because the cardboard case and inserts were full of colorful images, words, photographs, like a photo album.  The sound was physically recreated by a diamond-point needle scraping and bouncing along tiny wavy grooves.  How I regret getting rid of my albums when CDs came out.  Maybe I should have been more hesitant to want the latest and greatest technology.  The sound is different and the albums more satisfying to look at than those little plastic cases.

Email first appeared when I was nearly 10-12 years into my career. Our particular group, because we calculated lots of numbers tied to maps and tables, was the first in the state to receive IBM PCs when they became available.  My very first job was to print payroll checks, paper reports, and apply customer payments with a large IBM system.  I’m trying to remember the number. Maybe it was a 3520?

We literally worked inside the IBM computer on a raised floor full of rushing cooled air that would flow up through the big boxes staggered throughout the large room.  Tape drives, boxes full of boards of individual transistors, IBM technicians all dressed like “The Men in Black.”  Today, my laptop probably has 1,000 times the processing power of that huge room full of boxes.

Now, contrast all that with my blogger’s discussion.  I don’t know her age, but I believe she is much younger and my impression is 20s or 30s.   Let’s just say 30 for a round number.  That puts her birthday in 1982.  The IBM PC was first sold in 1981.

She was born into the computer age. By the time she was ten, laptops were commonly available.  If there were typing classes in her high school, they were most likely typing on computers, not typewriters.

Cell phones were first commercially available about 1981 also.  By the time she was 10, they were becoming more common and just a few years later, the mid-1990s, exploded on the scene.  By 2007, in developed countries, there were 97 cell phones for every 100 people, including all children!

So, someone born about 1982 was born into the electronic age.  What does communication mean to them?  Everything is electronic:  Books, music, email. No need for a library, for paper photos, paper newspapers, paper magazines.  Instead of one to four television networks, she likely had access to dozens or hundreds of channels of “content” rather than “programs.”

But look at the part about the news (and pardon the cut-and-paste, but I want to get it right):

Regarding the news: I read the Diario through an RSS feed, which means the stories appear in my reader as they’re released online. So my experience of this incident was a series of three or four stories with increasing amounts of detail, beginning early and continuing through the day. I manually checked other sites to compare accounts.

If anyone is interested in the Diario feeds, you can choose them on this page: http://yucatan.com.mx/noticias-rss. You would need to subscribe in a feed reader, such as Google Reader.

I subscribe to the Merida feed, which means I get a clean, easy-to-read stream of Merida city news as it’s released, instead of having to check the Diario site. The stream piles up in Google Reader until I decide to look at it.

I saw that and just was amazed. Not that I didn’t know the technology is available and that people have been reading RSS feeds for a long time.  But… how do I describe this?

“The importance of the online world and its difference between generations?”  Maybe?   It seems to me that younger age folks, beginning with those born in the 1980s and up, are so tied into “online” that it is so much more vitally important to them than it is to people my age (see “Cool Hand Luke” above!) 🙂

The news pours in. How do people react? Do they react?  The E-stream is a feedback loop, that is both highly important and unimportant at the same time.  There is so much information flowing that no one person can have a handle on all of it, but those areas important to them are monitored.  “Streaming,” I suppose, can mean more than the delivery of movies to your computer.  It could also mean a “streaming life” where being tied to news and data on small devices is part of your consciousness.

Unimportant can also be in this way:  I watched a charged political forum discussion the other day, where a 20 year old man said to a much older lawyer, “I grew up with the Internet.  Insults online just don’t bother me. It’s something I see and just rolls off.”  Comments from some are easily dismissed as more “noise” and he goes on to find information he wants and people with whom he agrees.  Those others are simply dismissed without a thought.

There is also a feedback loop of instantly being able to find people who agree with you, anywhere in the world. Or people who share the same taste in art, or food, or music, or… everything.  So, I think, maybe the idea of conflict and disagreement are somehow fundamentally different between age groups. How does always being in touch with people who agree (or share the same thoughts and goals) affect people who grow up with that capability?

For me, “online” is not part of my consciousness.  Most would call me old-school  — from the physical world. I used to touch things to communicate. I like pens. Photos on paper. A large photo book on architecture, art or history couldn’t be torn from my hands!  A person doesn’t even have to look at an iPad, laptop or cell phone screen to see the news – the device can read it to you, while you rest your eyes and ponder.

Yes, I use all these things – cell phones, laptops, blogs, email, texts – but their importance in my hierarchy of thoughts and feelings simply isn’t the same as someone who has absorbed these technologies as a child.

It is like learning Spanish. I first learned in grade school.  Someone who tries to learn at age 50 may never have the same ease with the language as a child exposed to two or more languages from birth.  It just settles in deeper in the brain with a child. An older person may learn the language well, but it is a part of the child who learns it from birth.  Does that make sense?

When I realized the streaming nature of the news to this blogger, who I hope to call a friend, I also realized how physical the news is to me. I pick up the newspaper. I discuss it face-to-face with a neighbor, the tienda owner, the taqueria man, etc.  My personal first response to the news is not to talk about it online. Almost never, in fact. I have to purposely, consciously think, “Hey, maybe I’ll share this.”

“Online” may never be my main orientation, simply because of the way I grew up, the way I was hard-wired from birth.  I may use new things, but they may not be a part of me.  I can be conscious of this, but I may not be able to change it.  Do I even want to change it?

We all have our differences. I didn’t even mention gender, sexual orientation, cultural backgrounds, education, a very long list.  This was only about the basics of how important “online” is and the differences between the way I see the Internet and the way younger people see it and use it.

I wonder how others see the topic? Are there people in their 40s, 50s, 60s for whom online, streaming news, is more a part of their lives than mine?  If anyone actually reads this far, I’d like to hear from all age groups and know more about how they see this.

In the meantime, does anyone remember this song from “Cool Hand Luke:”

I don’t care if it rains or freezes
‘Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my plastic Jesus I’ll go far.

(In the 1970s, I actually had a minimum wage job which included doing all day long what Luke is shown doing here on a prison chain gang.  Life is weird like that. There was no such thing as weed eaters!)

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