Generation Gap

I just saw the movie “The Social Network”. It dramatizes the Facebook story. Chances are, anyone reading this blog has a Facebook page. There are 500 million people using Facebook these days, and the company is valued at 25 billion dollars. It’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is the focus of the film. He’s still only in his 20s and is the world’s youngest billionaire. Like, far out, man! Oops, that’s a slang expression from MY generation, the Boomers. 

So, Zuckerberg is  a “Gen Y” member, as are many of the students in the college classes I teach. I’m easily 3 times the age of most of my students, and while that’s certainly a “gap,” I get along pretty well with most of them but I certainly wouldn’t fit in with them beyond in the college classroom context. So be it. And the more power to them. Each generation does its own thing, so-to-speak, and always will. However, while the chronological gap between myself and my typical student is easily measured by simple math, the technological divide might just span the Grand Canyon! Certainly, Facebook seems to be emblematic of Gen Y-ers and even those much younger. I call my students “digital natives” because they’ve been in the computer age from the day they were born. I was born in the time of ice and fire, and since about 20 years ago, I’ve been trying to evolve beyond primitive levels of a digital I.Q. Not that Facebook is difficult to use–that’s it’s beauty, it’s so simple that yes, even us ever-more-fossilizing, late-to-the-digital party Boomers are increasingly barging into its virtual nightclub for some cyber-mingling and chatter. But at the same time, even when I’m in the a virtual social world such as Facebook, or You-Tube or whatnot, I can’t help but feel out-of-place.  I’m so analog! Being on-line has never gotten the best of me. This blog is the most digitally daring action I’ve ever undertaken. But since I like to write, here I am in cyberworld. With whom am I even “connecting”? Maybe nobody. Well, a friend or two at least. I’m not soliciting readers, not really. All writers actually are speaking to themselves, unlike most of those half-billion Facebook members who seem to be compelled to post some remarkably mundane detail about their day (just had lunch at Potbelly. Next stop Abercrombie & Fitch). Okay,  what EVER! But that gap. It’s a reality gap, actually. They’re immersed in a virtual world so much of their day that instead of even calling a friend to say “lunching at Potbelly later, wanna meet?” they post it on a social network site. How facile is their world of connectivity! Then they meet at Potbelly and instead of chatting face-to-face, they stare at their smartphones half the time, no doubt checking Facebook. Forget Potbelly, they do it in classrooms, from Stanford to Harvard to, in my case College of DuPage. Hey, who am I kidding? Any Boomer worth his or her generational salt spaced out in some nether world in college classrooms, but that was, most likely, pharmaceuticals and Budweiser calling the shots; the  electronics back then would be the Boob Tube and a decent stereo system. Harvard? Did Zuckerberg even finish his degree there? Who cares, right?  

That brings me back to the movie. I never knew much about the “back story” of Facebook or Zuckerberg. Evidently, he may be less than a pillar of business virtue. Hey, no one’s perfect, eh? But he’s the billionaire for being that Facebook guy, however he obtained generational guru-dom. In my generation, what might a tye-dye, bell-bottom wearing Zuckerberg  have had to conjure up as “the next Big Thing”? If he wanted to expand social networking in the 60s in similar orders of magnitude such as Facebook totals of today, he’d have to settle for “brick-and-mortar” hang-outs, or groovy music scenes in the park, with Frisbees flying all about. We mingled at coffee houses or head shops. Much social networking took place in these spaces.  Unlike Facebook, however, there would be a legal limit to how many patrons could pile into such a building. Parks had curfews. In fact, the fire marshal would require a formal notice to be posted: not to exceed 100 people (or whatever). A bum’s rush awaited those who lingered too long in the parks.  So, how would a 60s Zuckerberg make his mark?  He could still get 500 million patrons on board his movement by opening 50,000 hippie-dens and packing them to capacity. Coffee houses, head shops, poetry, pot, platitudes, pretentiousness, party people and a profit margin for Mr.Z., the CEO of this pre-digital, bandwagon hipsterism.   Now that I think of it, doesn’t Starbucks have 50,000 outlets now? Seems that way, no? Hmmm. My 60s Zuckerberg scenario has actually played out, to some extent. I sense a symbiotic Zen vibe here. The cyber coffee house has been flourishing for the last 15 years or more already!  Starbucks and Facebook. Facebuck. Starbook. Free wi-fi. Come on in, plop down with the laptop, a latte and beam yourself up so can you express every banal  thought lurking in your digitally dazed noodle. Starbucks? Hell, even Dunkin Donuts! I myself, however, don’t own a laptop, and don’t like Starbucks coffee (Dunkin works, tho). I’m not writing this at any Cup of Joe hang-out, actually. I’m at a public library that also offers free wi-fi but prefers the frappachinos and lattes stay where they belong.

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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