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BETWEEN GENERATIONS: Turn on, tune in, (don’t) drop out — is social media going stale?

- Belle DeMont

We’re all into it knee deep, the social media engine firmly enmeshed in our lives, be it personal or business. Who isn’t wrangling with the what-to-about life online and its consequences?

Karalee and Jill reminisce on the befores and ponder the nows of social media and whether they might ever check out of digital living.

Karalee

My social media in the 70s happened on a mustard yellow phone, attached to the kitchen wall, and my two annoying younger brothers constantly eavesdropped on my calls. When we got a fancy ten foot phone cord, I dragged that sucker to its limit, longing for privacy one phone logistics made impossible. My family knew when my high school boyfriend phone-dumped me (wept in the kitchen) and all social plans (arranged by phone). What saved my soul was leaving house and wall mount behind where no one could hear (or reach) me. Away from prying ears, what I got up to left no trace, save for memories and maybe some crappy polaroid snaps.

Jill

Cellphones became popular when I was a pre-teen, so of course I remember life without them/social media. I got my first flip-phone in the seventh grade and was thrilled to text my friends... even though only two of them had a phone and it took ten minutes to send one text on the T-9 keyboard. Through all the tech phases, Motorolla Razor, Blackberry, and finally the godlike iPhone, every teen was glued to a phone, me included, and my adult life is still ruled by the screen.

As a Digital Communications Specialist, social media and the online world play a huge part in my role, I mean, it’s in the name. My career lives in the digital realm, staring at a screen. No matter how much I might want to escape it, from 9-5 it’s not possible, and my interest in using it for the personal is lessening. Sure, at times I get bored and turn to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, but I don’t enjoy social media as much anymore. Karalee, what’s stopping you from cutting it out all together?

“Face it, the social media wave has done some serious damage to my age group already.”

-Jill Ellsworth

Karalee

The short answer is I’m in the midst of a social media evolution, my personal participation waning dramatically, for several reasons. Most fueling the digital decline is that who matters most to me is family and close friends. Social media isn’t how we connect, and I don’t keep tabs on people who aren’t meaningful in my life anymore. It’s also weird to be geo-tracked and have personal contacts, photos, texts, and posts digitally sleuthed. Seems two eavesdropping younger brothers were replaced with algorithmic engines, the consequence of which I don’t fully understand except that I’m delivered loads of ads aligned with my phone usage. And finally, I’m craving privacy.

I figured possible solutions were going private, easing up on posting or quitting social media altogether. I chose options one and two. I’m not quitting. That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Social media’s value for me is as an in-the-moment, hyper-local data machine. Heck, it can alternately spit out Dilly Dally’s daily scone or summon a tool that lets me coordinate five people for a run in one fell swoop. Pretty much, it’s a single-source go-to replacement for the long-defunct phonebook ‘yellow and white’ pages, traditional advertising and, yup, the old wall mount. So no to quitting, but yes to limiting to what I feed of myself and mostly purpose-driven usage, with a wink and a nod to the tail wagging the dog.

Jill

I don’t think I’ll drop social media completely, at least in the next few years. But I do see the benefits of limiting use and remembering life-unplugged. Face it, the social media wave has done some serious damage to my age group already.

As a member of the text-generation, I grew up hating phone calls, let alone face-to-face meetings. It's so easy to send an email or a text message that I've literally had to train myself not to get anxious when the phone rings or I have an in-person interview. Obviously, as an adult I've started to counteract that, but years of social media at my fingertips meant I could live life entirely through a screen without actually speaking to people. For generation Z, this is continuing at an even stronger pace. They call millennials the tech-natives, but it's actually Gen Z. Screens have literally been around for their entire existence, and they are completely comfortable in the tech world.

Although I love the convenience of texting and social media and appreciate it for what it is, paper has always been my comfort zone. As someone obsessed with stationary, checking mail, and handwritten letters, I'm nostalgic for something that was never really mine to begin with. Handwritten letters are incredibly powerful and I'm sad that social media and screen-conversations have almost entirely replaced them.

I treasure the letters I saved that my grandmother and great uncle wrote to me when our family was living in Ontario. My sister even has a tattoo from a handwritten card our uncle gave her before he passed away. I make an extra effort to send postcards and written letters to my nephew in Ottawa because I don't want him to think I only exist through a facetime screen.

Karalee

Spot on, Jill. Sometimes old technology still trumps the digital ether. When I’m in the mood, I haul out a stack of old, handwritten letters, and no screen glow could possibly compare to the feel of holding a moment in time in hand. And while one family phone did have its limitations, I’m wistful for the sound of a ring, someone else answering, and hearing a holler, “Kar, it’s for you.”

But maybe that’s me being nostalgic. Truth is, everything changes. And who knows, Jill, maybe in 2049 you’ll write about the old days when there used to be this crazy thing called social media, and I’ll shriek to my pals in the retirement home, “Hey, I used to write a column with that gal!!”

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