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The future is now

So, I just happened upon this article Young people don’t like us. Who can blame them?… I’ll pull out the part that was most poignant and truthful for me. Although it is definitely aimed at a British audience, it’s a message I think people stateside should heed as well.

Today’s 21-year-olds were born in 1985. The internet was two years old in January that year, and Nintendo launched ‘Super Mario Brothers’, the first blockbuster game. When they were going to primary school in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee was busy inventing the world wide web. The first SMS message was sent in 1992, when these kids were seven. Amazon and eBay launched in 1995. Hotmail was launched in 1996, when they were heading towards secondary school.

These kids have been socially conditioned in a universe that runs parallel to the one inhabited by most folks in the media business. They’ve been playing computer games of mind-blowing complexity forever. They’re resourceful, knowledgeable and natural users of computer and communications technology. They’re Digital Natives – accustomed to creating content of their own – and publishing it. (Remember the motto of YouTube: ‘Broadcast yourself!’)

Now look round the average British newsroom. How many hacks have a Flickr account or a MySpace profile? How many sub-editors have ever uploaded a video to YouTube? How many editors have used BitTorrent? (How many know what BitTorrent is?)

Definitely something to think about. It also reminds me of why, as one of the editors I met at the job fair in Detroit told me “I don’t have to tell you this… looking at your resume and work, you get it.” Part of the reason I and many of my peers — though I will say a surprising number of them don’t — “get it” is that we always have. It’s what we’ve always known.

I had a conversation with one of my reporters at dinner yesterday along these lines. It’s crazy for me to think of all the things that have been invented just in my lifetime. I mean, I remember a time before Nintendo dominated kids’ lives, back when baseball and climbing trees were the best ways to pass the time. I remember rushing home to watch TRL after school and hurrying up softball games to catch the end of Dawson’s Creek, back before TiVo made the television work around your schedule.

I even remember before we had the Internet. In fact, I remember the day we got the Internet. In all it’s 33kbps glory (and that was cutting edge, 28kbps was standard at the time). I remember when my whole family shared a single att.com e-mail address because Hotmail hadn’t been invented yet. I remember a time before I understood the concept of a search engine and the role of advertising online. (For the longest time, I’d go to Yahoo.com, type in “chat” and the banner at the top was a mouse running into a hole, which somehow advertised for The Globe. I remember how frustrated and confused I was when they changed the banner ad and I couldn’t find The Globe for weeks.) I also remember when chatrooms, The Globe’s in particular, were not java-based. In fact, I cut my teeth on HTML in those chatrooms, trying to make my text bigger and bolder, trying to draw an audience even at age 10. Heck, I remember when Netscape was the only browser.

I remember learning computer programining in the 6th grade on machines so outdated that not only were there no harddrives but the floppy disks actually were floppy. I remember when having a pager was the “in” thing, and when cell phones weighed as much as a text book. And I remember when I felt like the outsider because I had an e-mail address and none of my friends did, back in the years before AIM, Facebook and MySpace.

What I think is craziest of all about this is that I grew up and can remember both worlds. I think no other generation can say that, and therefore my peers and I are going to be the people who have to take the media industry by the arm, lead it toward the light and reconcile the differences between old and new media. For that I feel lucky. Instead of inheriting a dying industry, I look at as an opportunity to trailblaze and create something new.

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