What the older generation doesn’t realize is that, in many ways, the Internet is the “rock and roll” of today’s youth, and that for many, it is their defining cultural icon.
Think about what’s happening here. When I was growing up, I was told that rock and roll was evil and that it would destroy my mind. Heck, people burned Beatles records in my day because John Lennon happened to observe at the time that the band was more popular than a certain religious figure. Now, I’ve been listening faithfully to Led Zeppelin for over twenty years, and I think I’ve turned out OK.
Young people today are being told by the older generation (some of whom are the same people who ridiculed the rock and roll critics in the sixties) that the Internet is evil and that it will destroy their minds. How do they react? They embrace the Internet. They passionately defend it. They do what they can to point out the sheer idiocy of calls for technical control. The Internet is theirs, they say, and so they politely (and sometimes not so politely) tell the old folks to “butt out.”
Who’s to blame them? Did many people listen to their parents and other “authority figures” in the sixties?
Another example of the huge Internet-related generation gap can be seen with all the recent hype about the “information highway” (or as I call it, the “information super-dooper highway”). Excitement about the “highway” reached a feverish pitch through the last year, yet most of it focused on some futuristic television based system with a credit card reader attached that would let us buy stuff from the “home-zirconium shopping network.” Listening to the discussions about the highway from TV and cable company executives (people who grew up thinking that the television was the center of the universe), it is apparent that the older generation believes that all that is necessary to build the “information highway” is more TV. “The information highway?” they said. “Sure, we’ll give you one. Look, it’s got 500 channels, and video on demand!”
Sadly, these executives — ladies and gentlemen well into their middle age, I might add — missed the fact that the youth of today don’t want more TV junk, they want the interactivity to be found through the global Internet. They don’t want video on demand, they want access to knowledge and information. They don’t want to be couch potatoes in front of the tube, but do want to lose themselves in the mystery of the World Wide Web. They don’t want home banking through their TV, they want it through the ‘Net. Until some of the telephone and cable companies put a bunch of 25 year olds in charge of developing the “information highway”, Canada’s major telecommunication organizations will remain “without a clue” as to what the information highway is all about.
What is remarkable about this generation gap surrounding the Internet is that the baby boomers — that idealistic generation of the sixties, once so full of passion and enthusiasm for issues of democracy and freedom — is really missing the fact that the Internet is becoming the “Vietnam war” of today’s youth. Where are the baby boomers, in this discussion about censorship of the Internet? Where are their ideals, when government talks darkly of a “1984ish” approach to control of Internet content? Where is their passion, when the media relentlessly hypes some silly aspect of the Internet?
Where is the morality of the baby boomers, in this current struggle between generations? Has it just vanished? Sadly, I think so.
The Internet is a generation gap, and I happen to side with the young people. After all, they are the ones who will inherit this world from us over the next decade. They are the future world leaders and business executives, who will be responsible for managing their own affairs. Obviously, they believe the Internet should play an important part in that world of the future, and so I say to them, good for you! I’ll do what I can to support you.
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