I am solidly a Generation X’er and I wear the label with pride. Generation X did not grow up with information technology – we grew up along the side of it. As a child, I knew one friend whose family had a computer. It was good for typing funny words and then printing them out and for playing The Oregon Trail. In grade school, I vaguely remember one blue IBM computer on a cart being wheeled from room to room but I don’t remember anyone really using it. In high school, the only technology course that was offered was keyboarding. When I got to college, you could still turn in papers handwritten.
I never grew up thinking that I would get into the IT field. I thought I wanted to be an archeologist or a museum curator and live a life of high adventure. Real life got in the way and decided that I was going to take a year off between high school and college. I got a job and realized quickly that I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my life. As I poured over the catalog of degrees and courses, I remembered being in that keyboarding class and how easy being on that computer was. After lots of thought, I decided to enroll in a computer programming degree. I spent a year learning how to code in Visual Basic and C++ until I took an elective networking class and the light bulb went off. I got my first IT job a few years before Y2K when IT was really taking off and the rest, as they say, is history.
My kids do not know life without the internet and information at their fingertips. They don’t realize that before Google you had to go to an encyclopedia for your facts. I grew up during the time of the afternoon school special, cartoon Saturdays and rushing to Blockbuster early on a Friday to rent the latest movie. I love streaming media and the fact that you can binge watch an entire season of Stranger Things in a weekend is both mind blowing and depressing at the same time. I have a Nook and a Kindle but I still prefer holding a book in my hands. I remember vinyl records, 8-tracks, cassettes and the cd. I was an early user of Napster and I love all the apps today that allow you to listen to free music. I love printed magazines and catalogs but I also love Pinterest and Amazon. My cell phone is indispensable but I sometimes miss the days of not being constantly connected.
I work with lots of fellow Gen X’ers and I see many like qualities about technology among us. We didn’t grow up living and breathing it and it wasn’t necessary for survival. As technology evolved into the workplace, we had to learn quickly and embrace it. We know the importance of technology but we remember a time without it. Sometimes it’s hard to embrace but we get through it. Even though my livelihood is entrenched in the digital world, I sometimes feel that life was easier before it. Is Generation X is the group that walks the line between retro and modern? The X is a fitting letter to define us because it symbolizes the crossroads of a life before technology, during and after it. To my fellow Gen X’ers and those who have come before – it’s OK to walk the digital line. It’s OK to have mixed feeling about technology and the changes it brings. It is scary but is also exciting. When you think that it’s all just passing you by, just remember that even people in IT think that way. Even back in 1986 Ferris Bueller knew it too: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.