When entire generations of a society are effected to some degree or another by a shared social phenomenon we have a tendency to give said generation a label, such as Baby-Boomers or Generation Y. A post-WWII boom-time generation, large in number, hard working and soon retiring, Baby-Boomers have dominated societal demographic headlines with their particular statistics for years.
More recently, the children and grandchildren of the celebrated ‘Boomers generation have become the topic of analysis and projection. Known as Generation Y, as your’s truly is a member of, these younger folk have largely been branded the adopters of the most recent and amazing technological revolution. Laptops, omni-precent internet connectivity, social media, blogging,smartphones; are all technologies tested, pioneered and enthusiastically adopted by Generation Y. Yet, it was not always so, as it’s worth remembering Generation Y was not born into the life of comfortable technological immersion it’s hallmarked for.
While growing up some of our generation still used dial-up internet, home phones with cords, and can all clearly remember getting their first Nokia cell phone, complete with a black and white screen and retractable antenna.
However, as time ruthlessly marches on, Generation Y are becoming old news, fading into history slowly as a new generation of a weird technologically superior species steal the limelight. While Baby-Boomers can be defined by words like war, industry, middle-class, and American dream, Generation Y can be described with words such as mobile, internet, connected and social media. This next generation can perhaps spitefully be referred to as “Generation R” by us Boomers and Y’s alike. Slightly hypocritical, but painfully accurate nonetheless, this “R” stands simply for regret.
This may seem ridiculously overly critical of a generation, as it implies they collectively lack foresight and judgement skills. This is not my intent as an author and unabashed observer of pop culture. It should be remembered that egret is not always intentionally inflicted upon oneself, and is often instead the consequence of involvement in events that at the time had unforeseeable future effects. On the contrary, Generation R will be our most intelligent yet, with 24/7 access to infinite amounts of data at their finger tips to fuel innovative thought. But it is precisely this lifelong connectedness that will inevitably cause regret for so many.
Generation R will be born into the world of complete digital connectedness they will inevitably be unprepared for. The teenage brain has not yet fully developed, and while Generation Y was able to slowly adopt social media and the likes, Generation R will be baptized into a world completely saturated with tweets, likes, shares and plus-ones. As Eric Schmidt of Google has fearfully pointed out, Generation R will be the first generation of humans to have their entire lives documented digitally. It is precisely this comprehensive digital documentation and chronicling of Generation R’s lives that will give definition and meaning to “R”.
Youths do stupid things, that is the nature of a young person who’s brain has not yet developed sound judgement skills such as foresight, wisdom, or self-awareness. Until now these stupid judgements, words, and actions have been washed away with the tides of time, the only memories retained being in the minds of the few individuals directly witness to mentioned events. When I burnt my forehead with my mother’s curling iron whilst trying to spike my bangs pretentiously upwards like the character Joey from the sitcom Friends, it was all but forgotten in a matter of months as the wound healed and so did my confidence (unsurprisingly, and fortunately, it did not require much time to pass before the whole spiked bangs thing was forgotten as well).
Generation R won’t be so lucky as to have potentially humiliated actions forgotten so quickly and painlessly. Should I have been born into Generation R my burn mark would likely have been documented digitally with the snap of a iphone camera, uploaded to twenty-odd social media networking sites and gone viral, being seen, recorded and laughed at by hundreds if not thousands of my peers. Should I be particularly unlucky a viral meme would be created and the world would laugh at my misguided vanity for years to come. Humorous as this may be, in other instances tragedy is all too often the result of social folly gone viral.
In a previous cyberbullying post, a social media watchdog, brought to light the case of a 16-year old Italian girl who leapt to her death from a 3rd story window after being digitally bullied by eight teenage boys after she broke up with one of them, got overly intoxicated at a party, had a a embarrassing photograph tastelessly taken and shared amongst all of her peers. There was also a boy in Rome who killed himself just months previous due to sexual-orientation related bullying. As mentioned in the “cyber-bullying” post, young people are finding themselves unable to escape the digital connectedness, which when misused, can be a social animal’s (as humans are) worst nightmare.
The teenage girl who gets drunk at a unsupervised house party, the homosexual teenager not yet confident with his or her orientation, or simply the typical youth not yet comfortable in their own skin, or with their identity, are all extremely susceptible to online bullying, and unfortunately, sometimes tragically so. These are the losers of Generation R. Such instances can be mitigated with online-responsibility classes being incorporated into public and family education, as well as online parental controls and oversight.
Still, nobody born in the 2000′s will be immune to the effects of hyper-interconectedess. Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, and from now on, they will be documented, stored on a server and become a near permanent part of history. This is the regret that many of generation R will one day experience, as one of their mistakes could at any day resurface and be spread around the world digitally in a matter of just hours. It is truly a terrifying thought.
Even more terrifying are the economic and political consequences of such digital documentation. When Generation R begin running for public office, become CEO’s or Regulators, how will their digital history come into play? Where political blackmail once required physical photographs or documents detailing transgressions or embarrassments, instead can now can be hacked, digitally photographed, or just accessed from a networking server in some ubiquitous dessert. In light of the resent NSA-Snowden scandal, it is clear the public is already uncomfortable of this human-databasing, and the consequences it implies. Even if you think simply by deleting your Facebook account or erasing Facebook history will help you’d think wrong, as that information is already logged onto remote server networks.
Blackmail, extortion, online reputation management and digital identity management can all be presumed to become quite popular in the coming years, as Generation R scramble to scrub their follies from the web as they aspire to bigger and greater roles that will inevitably bring intense scrutiny.
Luckily for Generation Y, many of our young, misguided adventures are relegated to memory. All the idiotic behavior emulated from television shows like Jackass will remain securely located on mini camcorder tapes, to the relief of many now 20 and 30-something year old men like myself. In publishing this post however, I have now voluntarily submitted by curling iron fiasco to the annals of digital history, and thus indirectly applied to a membership card to Generation R. I hope I don’t’ regret this!