If you are over 30, it’d be quite surprising to see how young people communicate. Being part of the digital generation myself, it’s a challenge to understand the big difference, but I will try to analyse it.
One observation I was able to make is when there was no internet connection in the shared house I am living in. People started gathering in the common areas far more often than usual, they were watching TV together (the TV is normally shut off when there is internet), and commenting. Actually, the sight of everyone in the house in front of the TV was so bizarre, that I was sure the Internet was down again, without bothering to ask. In the period of fixing problems with the connection and unstable speed, the small talk in the kitchen wasn’t about the weather – it was about ‘How’s the internet today?’.
Young people my age feel more comfortable when communicating with computers than with people. Another simple example is that, in our house, (apart from small talk), people only tend to talk to each other when looking at someone’s computer, or even – with everyone staying in their rooms and chatting via Skype. It can get really creepy when you think about it, but it seems normal to everyone. Interestingly, whatever you are talking about online (and in whichever way), when you are face to face with the same people, you talk in a totally different way. A way to somehow cope with that it so gather the people around one computer – because most of the things they might want to talk about are available online, and that’s the way they can share the experience.
What is more, people can’t get very deep and don’t tend to remember information – we only need to remember how we can get to this information when we need it – and since there are already pretty good ways to search, filter information and track activity, there is less and less to think about. You just start typing in a text box, and voila – you’ve found exactly what you needed.
EDIT: I came across an interesting video that gives a possible explaination for this. In a nutshell, the author suggests me and people from my generation are creating our own digital reality and it is re-wiring the way we think about life. But check out the video for yourselves:
Interestingly, when put in a situation with no internet connection, people didn’t exactly know what to do with their time. It turned out we are so used to consuming stuff online and accessing information (whether we need it or not), that it’s the only thing we do in our ‘spare time’. And it’s not about gathering information for something we need in the offline world – it’s consuming information just for the sake of it, information that is only worth online and that can only be shared back online.
The instant availability of information that we now take for granted (and what is more, it is almost free), is something relatively new. It is provided thanks to sophisticated algorithms and servers, databases and huge amounts of data being constantly collected and analysed. Each keystroke online is recorded and analysed, even if it is done anonymously. But still, since every bit of information about user behaviour is stored on a server, it can later be easily accessed and used.
Another concept that we now take for granted but is actually pretty new is FREE as the default price for information. Information is expensive, so in order to make it available for free (free to us), someone else has to pay the costs. After all, in order to be able to search instantly for anything, there need to be powerful servers doing all the computing, and since we’re not the ones paying for them, someone else is.
One of the things that bother me the most is the way we’re moving from direct communication (one-to-one conversations) to indirect communication, powered by various media (the phone is a medium as well).
A little grotesque, but actually very true, interpretation of this was the 2006 film ‘Idiocracy’. Based in the future, it deals with all these problems of people staying at their homes all the time, sitting in front of a television (computer screen in our case), their chair being a toilet and their clothes – printed brand adverts. These actually are ad spaces where brands pay people to show their ads, so some people have this as a main source of income. Their everyday lives are based around entertainment, everything is a product, and they are just consuming.
Another film that deals with the future of information is the 2002 ‘Minority Report’. Among all, it shows the future of over-personalized products and advertising – where the consumer is recognized by his eye scanned and the advert is broadcast personally to him. Actually, with the rapid development of location based services and user behaviour tracking, we’ve already started to see something like this in internet ad distribution – services like httpool and Google AdWords, apart from analysing keywords, are also tracking the consumer himself, delivering targeted ad content which he has the biggest chance to be interested in.