There are three generations within my household. My parents are both baby boomers, though 11 years apart, I am a proud Gen Y and my younger brother just scraped through as a Gen Z. Despite living under the same roof, our experiences with the internet are considerably different.
A typical day in our household finds me on my laptop immersed in an online community, my brother on my mum’s laptop also immersed in his own online community, my mother on her iPad playing ‘Words with Friends’ with her brother or reading an ebook and my dad checking his emails.
My dad retired from teaching in 2007, right when his school was implementing training for teachers in computer literacy. Such was his timing that he missed out on this crucial training and now looks at the whole notion of the internet as an incomprehensible universe to avoid.
“I don’t see the point in learning about that stuff,” he says, “I find it more important to maintain physical contact with people.”
Over the years, he has managed to have an email account, learnt to play cards online and youtube’d documentaries, but he represents a part of the population that are unable to feel involved in our expanding online world. For example, Centrelink’s online setup is only growing with the merging of human resources (like Medicare and MyGov), Telstra’s CEO has announced that customer service will no longer exist in the next 5 years due to everything being accessed online and internet banking has a central role in accessing accounts. While this may not even constitute a reflective consideration for those already comfortable with an online presence, those like my dad are unfortunately becoming increasingly isolated.
When I asked my dad about his expectations for the future, he did seem engaged in the possibility of having a faster internet connection, like the proposed yet scarcely placed NBN. He imagines the connectivity to be similar to the first part of the clip below and his hesitancy to be so readily involved is shown in the second part of the clip, through the poor fate of Mike Teavee.
While my family are unanimous about where they expect the internet to take us in the next 5 years, their feelings about this are conflicted. My mum has always been an enthusiast for new technology and innovations. She sees a future where everything is connected faster and easier and she is excited for what opportunities this could bring. She wants to see a future where we are more connected than ever, that the notion of having to access the internet through devices will become extinct and a new innovation will be developed that establishes an immediate connection to the internet.
This innovation my mum is referring to is the new Chromebook, which could very well mark the end of the desktop computer and be the start of a new era of browser laptops. Basically the Chromebook works as a direct source to the internet, where the notion of using an offline device is irrelevant (Pikover, 2014).
My dad also sees this as part of his future, though he looks at it with caution where my mum sees possibility. “Whatever the future holds will be amazing, but it’s happening too fast for older people to adapt”, my dad reflects. My brother and I are so used to living with the internet that the possibility of it improving and becoming more widely accessible only seems like the natural next step.
Despite my dad’s concerns for those in his generation who may be left behind, research has found that in 2011, social networking amongst the Baby Boomer demographic in fact doubled. In recent years there has been a boost in people over 50 using social media, smartphones and conducting web searches. Digital Health Strategist, Jamie Carracher, argues that the reason for older generations being left behind with technology is largely because they simply aren’t marketed to on the same scale as younger generations (Carracher, 2011).
My dad’s other concerns for the future of online culture are what it might do to our family structure in regards to communicating with each other. “My main concern is that we will stop spending time together like a traditional family”, he states. Journalist Aleks Krotoski argues that it is inevitable for family structure to change in the internet era. However, she also argues that family structure is constantly changing over time, regardless of technological advancements. Family structure is influenced by the contexts, institutions, laws and economic factors surrounding any given family. The internet is arguably a new form of staying connected with each other in a world where people are often separated by work, distance and time (Krotoski, 2010).
Despite conflicted feelings about the future of our internet era, it seems inevitable that we will all one day be connected to each other through a widely accessible and (hopefully) faster internet connection. I think it is important to navigate how everyone will be able to shift to this change early, so that no one is left unable to seek help or enjoy the small joys that the internet can bring like this clip below.
Carracher, J, 2011. How Baby Boomers Are Embracing Digital Media. Mashable, [Online]. Available at: http://mashable.com/2011/04/06/baby-boomers-digital-media/ [Accessed 23 August 2014].
Centrelink online accounts. 2014. Centrelink online accounts. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/centrelink/centrelink-online-accounts. [Accessed 25 August 2014].
Cullen, S, 2013. Updated NBN rollout maps show thousands of homes removed from construction schedule. ABC News, [Online]. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-31/thousands-of-homes-removed-from-nbn-construction-schedule/5059452 [Accessed 24 August 2014].
Holroyd, J, 2011. Talkin’ ’bout my label. Sydney Morning Herald, [Online]. Available at:http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/talkin-bout-my-label-20110720-1ho7s.html [Accessed 23 August 2014].
Krotoski, A, 2010. Is the internet really killing family life?. The Guardian, [Online]. Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2010/dec/26/untangling-web-krotoski-family-life [Accessed 23 August 2014].
Pikover, J, 2014. Chromebook 2014 Review: Samsung, Dell and Toshiba Deliver Lean Laptops.Mashable, [Online]. Available at: http://mashable.com/2014/08/24/chromebook-2014-review/[Accessed 24 August 2014].