As a 30-year-old, I believe people around my age have a unique perspective on technology and social media. I was born just before something called the World Wide Web went public to the world, before instant messaging, and before everyone and their grandmother had a smartphone. I got in a few good years of when a kid’s social life consisted of recess and riding your bike around the neighborhood to see if any other kids were out playing. Yes, we had video games and had seen a computer before, but we briefly experienced a mostly tech-free world before the implosion of the late 1990s and 2000s that made social media a part of our day-to-day (or minute-to-minute) lives. So many of today’s technologies and social media platforms were introduced and transformed along with my generation.
1998: Instant Messaging
It was around 4th grade when AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) started making rumblings around my school, and our world changed forever. Out were the days of knocking on doors in the neighborhood to see if your friends were home, or calling house phones to politely ask parents if you could talk to your friend. In were the days of screen names, buddy lists, away messages, and internet slang.
At the start, with one phone line and one family computer, my siblings and I had to take turns signing on to AIM to chat with our friends after school. Even though we were all together in school just hours earlier, we found ourselves having full conversations over the internet – from making plans to meet up, to homework help, to relationship gossip. Instant messaging gave us a fast and easy way to be connected to our friends while at home. This technology was new, exciting, and everyone was in on it.
2004: Cell Phones & Texting
It was around my sophomore year of high school when classmates started getting cell phones (for comparison: now over half of 8-12 year olds have cell phones!) and texting became all the rage. It took me close to a year to convince my parents I needed one too…I was 16 ½, just got my driver’s license, and prepared a guilt trip about what would happen if my 1990 Volvo station wagon broke down and I was stranded in the middle of nowhere without a cell phone to call for help. In addition to playing Snake, now I was able to stay connected to my friends 24/7 via texting.
When I was in high school I had heard about Facebook from my older brother who was an undergrad at Boston University when Facebook was invented and initially rolled out to Boston area schools in 2004. In the Spring of 2006 I was accepted to Syracuse University and almost as exciting as getting into college was the fact I now had a college email address, which meant I could sign up for Facebook! I immediately made an account and my future classmates and I began friending each other. I was instantly “friends” with hundreds of Syracuse freshmen (most I would never even cross paths with during our four years on campus). Facebook was a way for us to connect with new people, get to know our classmates and dorm-mates, and post pictures of all of our shenanigans (this was before smartphones, so almost every girl towed around a digital camera – taking pictures to upload to Facebook albums later on). Again, this technology was new, exciting, and everyone was in on it.
Up until my senior year of college, my experience with social media was solely a means to communicate with friends. Now it was time for job searching and the career services office introduced me to LinkedIn, i.e. Facebook for professionals. Now I was using social media to connect with professors, my parents’ friends, and potential employers – anyone I thought could help me find a job.
This was also the first time we really became cognizant of how we were presenting ourselves online. Nowadays people are taught at a young age to be careful with their online activity and what they choose to share. Early on there wasn’t much thought to it – our parents weren’t on Facebook yet, employers weren’t stalking your photos, and we just didn’t know any better.
2010-present: Social Media in Business
I entered the workforce in 2010 doing sales for an engineering company. Here I began to experience how social media was being used in business. Our firm used Lync (Microsoft’s business instant messenger before Skype), and we were owned by a conglomerate who created an internal platform that allowed employees across business units to share news, events, and stay connected. About three years into my career we hired a marketing and social media specialist who was right out of school. It was strange to see how someone just three years younger than me had so much more experience living and working with social media. She instantly boosted our presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube, and enlisted the help of the sales team to be content creators and active users of these accounts.
I was late to the game on Instagram and don’t have much to say other than a shameless plug to go follow my dog: @jovitheminidoxie
I don’t dare leave my house without my iPhone and I’m a daily user of Facebook, Instagram, Gchat, and much more. Social media has been an amazing and easy way to stay connected and up-to-date. It has been a big part of my life for close to 20 years now, but I can tell that the older I get the more out-of-touch and hesitant I’m becoming with trying new platforms while even questioning my use of existing platforms. Today I find myself so busy with finishing up graduate school, preparing to start a new career, planning a wedding, caring for my dog, making time for myself and family that I’m beginning to question whether social media is still the asset I have always viewed it as.
This semester I look forward to refreshing my outlook as well as learning from, and sharing with, my classmates (especially those a decade younger than me) about new perspectives on social media and emerging technologies.
P.S. – writing this made me feel really old…