Back in November, I wrote a blog post about how much the internet has taken over our lives, and never got around to Part 2. I couldn’t figure out where to go from there—until I ran across the recent article “Why 80’s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials,” and realized that 80s babies are actually the secret weapon to figuring out this modern technology conundrum.
No, seriously. I’m becoming convinced that my generation of Millennials—the earliest Millennials, the 80s born-and-raised Millennials—are the Rosetta Stone needed to decode this mess of technology vs. real-world experience. If you’ve ever said, “I need and love technology, but I kind of miss using my legs to walk around, and I haven’t seen a human face since Christmas,” then find yourself someone who was born between 1977 and 1985.
The article that clued me into this (and which I will reference as the source of many of my ideas) has this to say about 1980s babies:
A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.
The article is a nostalgic backwards look at what it means to come of age during the technology revolution—not before, not after, but during. I belong to that group. Our childhood was analog, our adulthood is digital, and the teen years were a mix.
Due to our unique place on this timeline, I believe 80s babies have an intrinsic understanding of how to balance technology and the rest of life in a healthy way.
We may not realize we have this knowledge. We may not always live it out. But we were forged in the analog fires, toughened through the gauntlet of 90s chat rooms, and came as adults to the sandstorm of social media—our past and our instincts can, and will, tell us how to appreciate and use technology without being eaten alive by it.
So let’s review what we’ve learned, shall we?
80s Babies Lesson 1: The Internet Should Be An Event, Not A Lifestyle
We were the first group of kids who grew up with household computers, but still novel enough to elicit confusion and wonder.
Remember when the computer was a fun new diversion? Most families had one, and getting on the internet was a once-per-day event. You removed yourself from the main flow of household activity and went to the computer station (in my house, the dining room), listened to the dial-up screeee at you for awhile, and did your inter-netting for the day. If you had permissive parents, you might be allowed up to two hours of inter-netting, but then they really did need the phone back. If you had siblings, like my husband did, everyone got an allotment of inter-netting per week (and learned how to beg, borrow, and steal each other’s minutes).
You signed off, and then you were done.
No answering e-mail endless times. No five-hour chat session that waxed and waned with your attention span. No looking things up throughout the evening as they occurred to you. The internet was a thing you had to go to at certain times.
This made the internet feel like a hobby, or a specific tool. You fitted it into your schedule and spent the rest of the day doing other things. You knew exactly how much time you’d devoted to it.
Today, the internet is ever-present. Between computers, phones, and tablets, it’s no longer an event, but the background of life. But it’s a crappy background. Most of us can’t even begin to tally up the random minutes we spend checking it throughout the day, and we give away with both hands massive amounts of time to its hungry maw.
(Do you know how long I’ve waited to use the phrase “hungry maw” in a blog post?)
And though this has been said a lot, it bears repeating—one consequence is that you can remove yourself from the flow around you at any moment, for any length of time. Disappearing into the computer room used to be a decision, a noticeable decision that your parents or spouse or kids could hound you about. A haze of distraction about your phone or laptop that never completely dissipates is much harder to combat.
The 80s Instincts Kick In
So what do we do about this? Here are some humble suggestions for making the internet an event again instead of a lifestyle.
- Choose a time and place to use the internet at home. Keep the laptop or tablet at a desk or table. Go to that spot for internet-related tasks, then shut the computer off and leave.
- Maybe actually turn it off, too, as opposed to sleeping or hibernating. This recreates the sense of inconvenience we used to feel about constantly jumping on and off.
- Consider what internet “background noise” you can cut. I’m trying to replace Youtube videos with book reading during meals and bedtime routine. The other day, I turned on the radio instead of Netflix while I worked on my graphic novel pages. Find small things you can replace with “real-life” events.
- If your hobbies necessitate the computer, can you still turn off the WiFi to get them done? For instance, when writing a blog post, I could copy and paste what I need to quote from other articles, then spend some quality time with my Word Processor without Twitter peering over my shoulder every three minutes.
- Set boundaries for your phone. Choose a location for it to live, and leave it there. Go to that place to deal with calls and notifications, rather than carrying the phone from room to room. (If you need to take the phone with you when going upstairs or downstairs, make one phone location for each level of the house).Make your phone space feel like a temporary work station rather than a place to settle in—this cuts the temptation to wait around for a text or idly surf the web. Remember when phones used to hang next to the kitchen doorway? Yeah. No one stood there waiting for a call, unless you were 15 and had a new boyfriend.
- Let notifications build up. You don’t have to check every noise your phone makes. You don’t have to sit with your finger hovering over the Facebook notification icon. Set a couple of times to check these things, and limit yourself to that. Better yet, do what I did this week and announce that you will only use your social media account for event invites and private messages.
- Tell close friends and loved ones to call if it’s important or time-sensitive. Tell them you won’t be responding to texts and social media as quickly, so if they need something right away, calling is best. Then you won’t have to spring at every text and babysit your social media account to keep from missing things.
These tips may be easier said than done. It may mean a lifestyle change in some areas. But we must set boundaries on how much of our lives the internet can invade. If we reach the point where the internet (rather than us) decides that it will be the background, and we have no say, then the robot takeover has already begun!
Come back on Friday (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.