Generation Gaps

Whenever the talk turns to Gen X, Gen Y and the Baby Boomer generation, it is interesting to see how people classify others, especially when they don't know a person's birth-year, or are only aquainted through work. The reason I say this is because, like my parents, I'm an 'in-betweener'. My parents were both born in 1959, which puts them right at the tail end of the Baby Boomers. I was born in 1980, which is generally considered the year that Gen X became Gen Y. My brother, born in 1988 (and Happy Birthday Hugh!), is quite definately a Gen Y - he grew up with computers and internet access in primary school. I quite possibly could be a Gen Y, but not only was I just a fraction too old, I grew up in the country which limited our access to technology. We had a Commodore 64 and an Apple IIe in primary school (and had never heard of the internet, even though it certainly existed). In high school, we had a computer lab and some kind of rudimentary access which was very closely monitored. I got excited about programming in BASIC, but other than that I was a lot more interested in boys, the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and, er, boys, I guess. I discovered the internet in university (the person responsible for that knows who he is!) and had my eyes opened to the wonderful world of IRC at the tender age of 17. So it is for this reason that I consider myself a Gen X.

Why all this talk about Gen X and Gen Y? Well, while I was overseas recently I was surfing the interwebs to kill some time in the hotel and came across a reference to a book titled "Consuming Innocence" by Karen Brooks. In addition to being a columnist with the Courier Mail, Brooks is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Southern Cross University in Lismore. The book is about

...the complex relationship that kids - from tots and tweens to teens - have with popular culture. It considers the role popular culture and, most importantly, parents play in creating children'sideas of themselves, and fearlessly questions the involvement of the corporations that target kids and promote sexuality.

Despite the marketing language on the back cover (and faithfully reproduced above by your host), which should have warned me off immediately, the book is a fascinating read. So far, I have to recommend that any parent of young children read it, especially as it is aimed specifically for an Australian geographic.

The bit that got me thinking about generation gaps, though, was Chapter Nine - "Give Me Some MySpace: The Cyberlution of Social Networking and Electronic Games". When I read that heading, I was expecting a chapter explaining how, when I spend most of my waking hours in front of at least one, and often up to three, computer screens, do I reasonably limit my child's computing time. This has concerned me for a while, especially since I now work from home. Tahlia simply does not - and cannot reasonably be expected to - understand that most of the time when I'm staring at the screen, I'm doing so for work. The entertainment time I spend on the computer is quite small when compared to the working time. Of course, any time spent on the computer by Tahlia is purely play time (Tux Paint is the current can't-close-the-laptop favourite), but this is a distinction that is very hard to express in four-year-old terms.

What I got in Chapter Nine though, was a bunch of rhetoric about how adults, in particular parents of young children, "have an ambivalent relationship with computers, mobile phones and electronic games". Speak for yourself, maybe, but my relationship with technology would be better defined as "life supporting" than "ambivalent". To give Brooks her due, she's addressing a rather broad demographic with this book, and I kept on hoping for a saving grace in this chapter, but it just didn't come. Am I the only tech-savvy adult with small children? I doubt it, especially with work-from-home positions in the technology industry becoming more and more popular.

So, although I consider myself a Gen X-er, and a relative latecomer to technology, there's certainly many older than me who would consider themselves in a simlar way. It seems as though as soon as you hit that magic adult milestone of "parent" you also become a technophobe. I had just started to come to grips with the fact that I wasn't "cool" anymore, by virtue of me being a parent, but now I'm supposed to be petrified of technology as well. Next, I'll be baking pumpkin scones on a wood-fuelled Aga, driving round the roundabouts backwards in my Volkswagon, and telling stories about "when I was your age ...". Oh wait. Well, never mind about that last one ;-)

In essence, Brooks' Chapter Nine still contained some good advice, although it was along the lines of "don't be scared, the technology won't bite you, just get in there and check out what your kids are looking at, who they're talking to". So, to give Brooks her due, it was an interesting topic, and useful despite the pages and pages describing exactly what MySpace is. And as for the rest of the book ... go out and buy it, read it, and follow the advice. If you already know what YouTube is though, skip Chapter Nine. I suggest you Read Chapter Eight twice instead, just to get your money's worth.

"Consuming Innocence: Popular Culture and Our Children"
Written by Karen Brooks
My copy published by University of Queensland Press, 2008.

You can buy it direct from the UQ Press