Last night I had my first ever instant message (IM) conversation with my mother. I know, it’s a historic event worth noting on this blog. After this, who knows what else is possible? Tomorrow, I may start text messaging my father on his way to work or Facebooking my uncle in Minnesota!
To students, however, this is nothing new. IM-ing is an essential part of college communication. Want to grab lunch now? What’s our homework tonight? Did you hear that Timmy is going out with Becky? IM conversations stem from the fact that students’ computers are on 24/7. And what’s more convenient than exchanging a few lines while pretending to “do homework”?
But any student out of middle school will tell you, IMing is passe. Text messaging is far better because you can now leave your computer behind and text on your way to class, heck you might as well text when you’re in class.
Texting, IMing, and Email, oh my! But who cares? Does it make a difference what you’re doing? Well, yes it does. As this fine slate.com article points out, “there’s now a generation gap between first-generation and second-generation Internet users.” What? Huh? OMG! WTF? Isn’t anyone reading this blog post pretty much the same? How can there be a generation gap among internet users when the internet as we know it didn’t even get popular until less than 10 years ago? And now there are generations of internet users?
But I would hesitate to simply draw this “generational” gap by age because the line is far more complex. There are certainly a good amount of 40 year olds who are far more cutting edge than I am. And there are plenty of 18-25 year olds that can’t do much more than exchange a few emails (one of the most basic skills) and play music on their iPods. Even if you divide by who uses what technologies, you still are not making clear distinctions.
One of the murkiest examples of this is right here at Middlebury College where email is the lifeblood of the campus. Email is dead among the “second generation” but students are forced to use it because higher education is still tied, via the first-generation user administration, to an “office” world. One of the largest tensions tech-wise at Middlebury is that faculty and staff are comfortable using their antiquated Outlook calendars to schedule meetings and send campus-wide emails whereas students are bypassing those services opting instead for non-Middlebury-administered GMail accounts and Google Calendars which allow for quicker processing and organization. Students can spread campus news faster via text message than the campus newspaper can or even an all-school email.
Sitting down with the Director of Library and Information Services Barbara Doyle-Wilch last Friday, some of these issues came up. When students have outgrown the technology provided to them by the institution, they will find their own technological solutions. Email should not be the solution to anything anymore yet, it still persists as it ties down students as slaves to “organizing” instead of doing.