Generation Gulf?

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by Ashley David

I was talking about blogging with one of my undergraduate editors at Mandala Journal, and it seems that, as far as blogging goes, we may operate in parallel universes by virtue of the technology generations into which we were respectively born. Whitney, now twenty-one and an avid blogger, divides the blogging cosmos into “the WordPress crowd” and “the Tumblr crowd.” She was raised on the ‘net and has been blogging in both environments for some time. She’s mostly left WordPress behind. In the Tumblr universe, she finds that her expectations for community and for visual and textual stimulation are met. By contrast, she finds the WordPress crowd to be, “It’s well, umm, how to put this? Static. It’s okay for grad students and my mom, but for my generation, we want more going on.” Ouch! I enlisted Whitney’s help to unpack her response because I must admit, I wasn’t exactly sure what she was talking about. Both in grad school and roughly Whitney’s mom’s age, I am clearly on the other side of a generation gap. I am not as “now” as Whitney is, and I’m more than a little unsettled by the prospect.

Right off the bat, I found myself afraid that we might have a case of the next order of brain on our hands, a fundamental difference between Whitney’s generation and mine that signaled a different kind of human on the rise. I intuited not merely a gap, but a gulf that could challenge the chameleon in me beyond its powers to adapt and blend in. A chameleon can mimic the shades of leaves and sticks, but a hot pink plank poses insurmountable obstacles beyond the critter’s available palette. (Never mind the ruby throat option.) I wondered, am I stuck in a universe of earth tones when the cosmos is trending toward technicolor? I dug out an old copy of The Atlantic, the issue that asked, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?”

Nicholas Carr’s 2008 article explores what “the internet is doing to our brains.” He takes us back to media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s observation in the 1960s that media both supply fodder for thought and shape its process. He also offers us developmental psychologist, Maryanne Wolf’s findings that we are both what we read and how we read. This how bit offers help with Whitney’s and my blogging conundrum. If the current technology teaches us to be “decoders of information,” and the more static and linear technology I’ve spent most of my life consumed by—books—teaches us to be interpreters of information, then it’s clear why I might be a WordPress kind of blogger and why Whitney might be a Tumblr kind of blogger. My brain, trained on the book, appreciates writing that is meant to be read and digested, whereas perhaps Whitney’s brain, trained on the ‘net, appreciates content that is meant to be decoded in a dizzying zip through (what is to me, an overload of) a multimedia collage.

Carr worries in his article that this new technology is making us stupid by turning us into a Stanley Kubrick vision, à la 2001: A Space Odyssey. He frets that our own intelligence will flatten into artificial intelligence. His worry is not mine, however, as I consider the next order of brain. I have no fears that Whitney and the internet generation are stupid. Rather, in my desire to communicate with this generation, I am challenged by our diminishing span of common ground as my brain happily continues to read books at a snail’s pace and Whitney’s brain hums along each day keeping up with, for example, the fifty or so bloggers whom she follows.

During week two of our ongoing discussion, Whitney and I realize that my fears are fully founded. We discover that our respective constellation of ideas associated with the mere word blog are so different that we have been having parallel conversations about blogs for two weeks. We have been talking past each other even when we thought that we were speaking the same language. The light bulb goes off when Whitney says, “Oh, I get it. When you say blog, you mean content to read. That’s not what blogging is to me at all.” Whitney craves visions splashed on the screen, whereas I prefer to conjure them up from the words on the page (or screen). I stand on the shore of reading as private journey, and Whitney stands on the shore of reading as social activity. And between us, a gulf of “You say reading, and I say reading. You say writing, and I say writing. You say blogging, and I say blogging. Let’s call the whole thing…”

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