Saying good-bye to the decade that made me, me – The Internet Generation.
I’ve always been interested in generations.
The idea that we can take a collective group of people within our country and gather them into segments based on shared experiences and emotions and cultural events is fascinating. Of course, the system isn’t perfect – people that might have been located in certain places might not have gotten to experience the same sort of cultural shifts that those in more populous places got to, class and race barriers certainly shift the tone of certain generations, children that were born on the cusp of generational divides find themselves in a sort of limbo as where they’d categorize themselves, and especially before the rise of the Internet, the collective agreement that these set of standards form a generation is strange and perhaps incorrect, but nonetheless a fascinating concept. With the Internet being more prevalent then ever, though, we’ve come to really be able to solidify what might have once been a vague catchall of experiences into something a little more specific now that more and more people have a voice.
Same goes for the difference in decades. I have no clue when the phenomenon first took hold in our culture, but the idea that I could tell a handful of different people to picture, say, the 80s and that they’d all probably share some key characteristics is crazy. We can think of a ten year gap and immediately associate a theme with it. Whether that theme is accurate or a sensation created by the media and those with enough power to influence our perspective, who knows – but it still remains interesting to me that we have these little capsules of individual styles and ideas and imagery and sounds that are all divided by ten year increments that we’ve just all agreed upon and is accepted as truth.
I was born in 1997. I was four years old when 9/11 happened, and I remember how I felt – which was confusion as my parents huddled around the television in the early hours of the morning. I have fond memories of a time before internet was wide spread, where there was a single family computer that everyone shared and the internet was still mysterious and cool and surprising. I remember my friends showing me viral videos and would one day be regarded by my generation as classics, I remember the excitement of having a phone with a full keyboard, I remember taking my CD player to school with a couple CDs and how difficult it was to get it to fit in my jacket pocket.
I was, of course, a little bit behind the times – that’s where some of the discrepancies between generational experiences start to build up – as I was probably a generation behind in technology growing up from the rest.
If you look online at the classification for generations, I am technically the beginning of Gen. Z – and missed out on being a Millenial by about 9 months. As I got older and became more aware of this generational divide, the more that that idea bugged me – especially as we got deep into the 2010s.
I was twelve entering the decade. I had just started middle school. My friends were right on the cusp of the generation that grew up without technology and the generation that grew up with it. As a kid, I didn’t have a lot of technology – like I said, a family computer was it, the Internet was a treat, I didn’t have a phone and most of my time was spent reading or playing outside. But as a middle-schooler into my teenage years, my life became steeped in technology as much as anyone else – social media boomed and I signed up for profiles behind my parent’s backs, most of my entertainment came from YouTube, I played flash games and talked to friends over MSN, and more and more communication started to occur between screens.
I was deeply invested in the rise of the Internet in the early 2010s. Before this decade, the internet was still mostly a tool and kind of an oddity – the idea of anyone becoming famous off of it was still a foreign concept, the idea of streaming wasn’t even a concept, and even smartphones were drastically different than they are as we exit the decade. But as the Internet grew, so did I, and my friends – I grew up with the birth of viral memes, I saw YouTube grow into a juggernaut to compete with television itself, I saw Facebook grow from a social media company to a technology company that could influence elections and saw Google grow from a search engine into quite possible the technology company of the decade. I saw Blockbuster die and Netflix rise, I saw phones grow from a voice communications device into a device capable of connecting you with the world, instant communication with those from other countries, and ordering Taco Bell at 10pm. I grew up and developed as a person at the same time as the Internet grew and developed and became an integral part of society as a whole.
As the decade entered its second half and I became a slightly jaded young adult and my younger siblings and their peers began making their presence known, I started to see a divide. These were kids who never knew a life before the internet – the Internet was already established as a part of life as they grew up. I found myself annoyed at their memes. Frustrated by their influencers and tired of their YouTube stars. Exhausted of the social media trends and their constant, screaming, nagging need for attention. I did not consider myself a ’10s kid’ – I had to tell myself that I was a ‘2000s kid’, whatever that meant, as someway to make myself different. I couldn’t tell the true difference between the two decades, and if the 2010s was going to be defined by this insane, egotistical, social media obsessed generation, then I would have no part in it. How could you tell me that I was a part of the same generation as my twelve year old brother who as never known a world away from smart phones and streaming and YouTube celebrities?
It was only as this year started to speed by that I finally started to realize what this decade meant. I couldn’t judge these kids – I wouldn’t allow myself to be the equivalent of the adults that judged us because they didn’t understand rising trends. I couldn’t let the past four years cloud what this decade was to me. I was not a ‘2000s kid’ – I was a child then, and have fond memories of that time – but that’s not the generation I grew and grew up in. That’s not the generation that shaped me and defined who I am.
This generation was my generation. Whenever my father talked fondly about the 80s, the decade that he became who he was – that would be what the 2010s is to me.
I entered this decade twelve years old, depressed and nerdy and unable to imagine my future. I loved talking to my Canadian friends over email and MSN and embracing the era of ‘randomness’ – which anyone my age will understand. I loved watching YouTube videos with gruff talking unicorns and two guys making skits and food battles. I loved the days of ‘bacon everything’ and endless mustaches and rage comics. I loved being a part of something that was growing and strange and created viral moments and sensations that older companies and people had no clue how to react to and so they’ve always been about three years behind the curve.
As I exit this decade, I’m twenty-two years old, married to my wife for over a year, working in an office job, overly anxious and everyday I have a mini mid-life crisis on who I am. I worry that I’m different than who I once was – I worry that I would’ve let my younger self down.
But then I realize that the music I have streaming in my car is the same music I brought with me on my CD player years ago. I realize that I still giggle at the old memes I used to share. I still think old-school Smosh is funny.
I think back to 2012 – who I was, how I felt, how I wanted my future when I was a Freshman in high school.
I think back to 2015 – how scared I was as an 18 year old forced to face the world.
I think back to 2017 – living on my own with the woman I’d later make my life.
I realize that I wouldn’t have let my younger self down. I realize that I probably would really like this new me – and I’ve realized that at no matter how many years pass by, how the times will change, what new viral sensations are created behind me that I may not understand – as we exit this decade, I realize that I was a 2010s kid, and this was my decade.
This was the decade that made me who I am.
And I’m pretty happy about that.
Happy New Year’s, Happy New Decade, and may the new year bring you peace, prosperity, and love.