Being Old and Observing the Young

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The older I get, the further away I get from the young. It’s not intentional on my part. They’re just leaving me behind.

When Audible.com has a sale, I buy audiobooks about unfamiliar subjects and subcultures to check out. Recently I bought I, Justine: An Analog Memoir by Justine Ezarik. Ezarik is a young woman who goes by the name iJustine, and is supposedly well known on the Internet, but completely unknown to me. Her book turned out to be well worth the $4.95 sale price, because of its many insights of growing up in a unique subculture. I love books about computer history, so this volume was more than a web celebrity’s personal story. The times, they keep a changing—I’m reading more books about people born in the 1980s, growing up in the 1990s. I think I first took note of this generation with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I Justine

iJustine makes her living doing what she loves. Totally geeking out on with Apple computers, gadgets and gaming, establishing a career by making her fan-girl life public, especially on YouTube. She even live-streamed herself for a while, which I found bizarre, and still spends most of her time making videos about her daily life, friends and digital life. I, Justine chronicles how she developed her internet celebrity business. iJustine, born in 1984, and now 32, is a Millennial.

iJustine is young, but not that young, because she also reports on the generation coming up behind her, which aren’t always her fans. iJustine describes a lot of nasty animosity in her world, which I occasionally encounter online. I find that very hard to understand. iJustine is an attractive young woman, who I would think guys would want to flirt with, instead some guys hate her, sending her the social media equivalents of hate mail, death threats, and even calling the police on her (swatting). There’s a lot of Gamergate type misogyny around her online world. I assume most of her time is spent having fun, being friends with nice people, and I just remember the bad stuff from her book.

I find the hateful incidents in her story disturbing, in the same way I find Donald Trump scary. iJustine herself is wholesome, polite, upbeat, and leans towards the silly side. She’s an extreme fan of Apple, working in a subculture that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m old, and only see digital life as an outsider. Reading I, Justine made me realize just how far away I am from being young. Although, my peers think I’m up-to-date because I know about computers and they don’t, being tech-savvy isn’t the whole story. I also wonder about how iJustine feels about aging. She says her target audience is preteen and teen girls. She’s half my age, and her audience is now half her age. At what age does a young woman start to appear too old to that audience? I wonder when she gets to be 64, will iJustine have trouble relating to the very young growing up in the 2020s? And can our culture keep mutating so frequently?

Since I don’t play video games, and don’t own a gaming console, that puts me on the other side of a huge generation divide. I was about to buy a new iPad so I could read my digital magazines better, but I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t buy an Xbox instead, just to see if I can get into video gaming. iJustine got her granny to play Call of Duty , and I assume she must be older than I am. I must be iJustine’s parents age. Maybe if Susan and I had had kids we’d have grown up with a succession of video gaming consoles too.

Now there’s growing excitement about VR. Virtual reality has zero appeal to me. I suppose this will put me two degrees away from the young. Or two-and-half since I’m a half-ass user of social media. I’m not quite Amish, but it seems I exist halfway between the Pennsylvania Dutch and hip hop America. What’s beyond VR life? Jacked in cyborgs?

Most of my friends live on the edge of the Internet. We all have smartphones. Most of us are now cord-cutters, watching TV off of Roku. I read ebooks and audiobooks, I listen to music via Spotify and Pandora. Half of my friends even use Facebook. We have adapted. But I, Justine showed me how far away I’m still from the digital norm. Like I said, I live on the shallow end of the net, while the young thrive in the deep end. There’s a big difference. I don’t comprehend the pithy (and often nasty) world of Twitter. And there’s a whole host of social media apps that I can’t even name, much less understand what they do.

That’s not saying I won’t catch up. Quite often subcultures become dominant. I’ve read many essays written at the dawn of the television age, resisting that change, and TV watching became universal. Yet, I can’t imagine wearing a VR headset. Will people start tuning out of reality for longer and longer periods of time? That seems no more practical than LSD back in the 1960s.

I support David Brooks notions about character and manners. All too often, iJustine reported having to deal with people who are rude and uncivilized. Is that becoming the new social norm? I’ve had to deal with some of those people blogging, and it’s stressful. I worry the more we interconnect through social media, the more we drop self-controls, letting raw emotions hang out. That can’t be good. At least not for dwelling in the Hive Mind.

I’ve had two friends my age whose bosses asked them if they had ADD. And other friends who said young coworkers would push them aside to do a task, not in an unfriendly way, just impatient to see the task finished quicker. Which makes me wonder if young people see us as moving too slow, or think we can’t comprehend. More than once I’ve been dismissed as just an old white guy. That doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it makes me wonder if there’s a cognitive gap.

By the way, my wife and women friends tell me to stop writing about my age, and hide that I’m old. My guy friends are like me, unconcerned about age. My lady friends warn me young people don’t want to read about old folks. Of course those women want to think they are still young. My wife plays video games, loves Facebook, and her and her friends are always texting and sending selfies.

There was a scene in I, Justine that was kind of sad. iJustine worshipped Steve Jobs, and the one time she got near him, Steve probably recognized her, and ran away. Maybe Steve was feeling too old to deal with a crazy young fan. I’m sure iJustine is a nice young normal woman, but her world does seems a bit hectic, sometimes mean spirited, fast changing, often silly, and way too videoized. Yet, if you just look at her videos, iJustine seems quite normal, if a bit goofy, and so maybe all the problems are with how the young communicate with each other—the snarky Tweets, the extreme expressions of emotion, the black hat hacking, doxing, swatting, phishing, misogyny, death threats, and all the endless ways they treat each other like they didn’t understand the person on the other end is a real person, and not some video game character to destroy.

JWH

14 thoughts on “Being Old and Observing the Young”

  1. I chuckled a bit while reading because I’m sometimes told by older folks that I’m impatient, especially when helping them with a task on the computer. I like that you mention your age and talk about aging and your views have changed and how they compare to the younger generation’s. That perspective is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading your posts. They’re very different from the blogs I follow and they make me look at things differently and consider things that I probably wouldn’t have thought of before.

    1. Thanks Zezee. I think that’s the good thing about the internet and blogging. We can learn about people we wouldn’t normally get to know in person. I’d often get impatient when helping people with the computer. It’s easy to forget when you know something you think fast, and when you don’t, you think slow.

  2. I’m from 1985, but I too feel like I am lagging behind already. There is this whole YouTube celebrity culture that I find hard to grasp. It is also strange to be called a millennial. I feel like that happened after me.

    1. Maybe generations are uneven, and not homogeneous. Also, iJustine could be an outlier for the YouTube part of her life. But I think being a gamer must make her part of the norm.

  3. I spend a lot of time on YouTube, Jim, but I’ve never even heard of iJustine. Well, why would I? In 2014, 300 hours of video were uploaded to the site every minute. That had tripled from the previous year, so it’s probably even more than that now. There’s no way anyone could watch even significant fraction of that.

    Of course, I’m your age. If I were younger, I might follow different YouTube channels. But at any age, different people have different interests. I checked out iJustine’s YouTube channel. She has nearly 3 million subscribers. That’s a lot. But there are one billion YouTube users.

    Celebrities have fans. That’s what makes them celebrities. I’ve never understood it, but it’s certainly nothing new to the internet. Neither is being a misogynistic jerk, though the internet makes that easier than ever.

    Note that the internet is anonymous and impersonal, and anger is really the only tone that expresses well online. People express themselves in ways they wouldn’t face-to-face, but also without the facial expressions, tone of voice, and other clues to intent (so comments are easy to misinterpret). And since it’s anonymous, there’s no reason to hold back.

    Of course, as I say, a billion people use YouTube. It doesn’t take a very large proportion of jerks to make a significant difference. Don’t read YouTube comments if you don’t want to be depressed and lose all faith in humanity!

    I do not, however, think that’s representative of some big change in society. It’s an artifact of the internet, and Google actually encourages it by how they rank YouTube comments these days. (Downvotes don’t lower the ranking of a comment anymore, but any attention at all actually seems to raise it. Thus, trolls rise to the top. The most outrageous comment provokes a reaction and therefore gets the highest ranking.)

    YouTube makes money from advertising. Comments that provoke and anger people get attention, thus causing more people to spend more time on YouTube. That doesn’t work with everyone, of course. But it’s the same reason for shouting heads on television, rather than actual journalism. It increases profits. And there are plenty of YouTube channels which don’t lure the idiots. (Celebrity channels are always going to be popular with trolls and other jerks.)

    Finally, as you know, I’m a PC gamer. I don’t own a video console, but I love computer games. But that’s just my particular interest. Even then, it’s not all games, not even close. Call of Duty doesn’t interest me in the slightest. But why should it? We all have different tastes, after all.

    You wouldn’t expect everyone to like the same books, would you? Not everyone even likes to read. And computer games are far more variable than books, since you play games in a variety of different ways. (The process of reading isn’t much different from one book to another.)

    You don’t have to like video games. You don’t have to like ballet, either. Some people do. You might recognize why, or you might not. But either way, it doesn’t have to interest you, no matter how old you are.

    1. Bill, I don’t think the changes are about specific games, but that fact that a huge number of people now play video games and video games are seen as a modern art form. Also, it doesn’t matter what you watch on YouTube, but the fact that many people have given up on television and switched to YouTube.

      And in this day in age, not to play video games is almost like being a Baby Boomer who didn’t listen to rock music. And there were such people.

      Sure, everyone is still different and unique, but on the whole, the young have changed in a mass way. Of course, if they had the same technology when we were young, we would have embraced it too.

      What I’m lamenting about not playing video games is I’m missing out on an exciting art form. One that might be eclipsing music and movies. Not playing video games in today’s culture is about the equivalent of not watching movies. Television is already dying to the young. Few people go to the ballet or opera. Not being part of the Maker subculture would be more like missing out on loving short stories.

  4. I can see where she would be appealing to young teens. I was a teacher of young teens so I understand how they think. but in my world she seems naive and without depth or is that being redundant. younger people always want to surpasses and take over the reins of power. it’s so easy to be ugly and mean when you’re anonymous , i see this in the hate email being passed around about political candidates

    1. When I looked at her videos they reminded me of television shows I loved as a kid, but can’t watch now – like Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies. We’re too old for that kind of humor.

      I think the current let it all hang out atmosphere of this presidential election is due to manners learned from the internet. Everything has a bad side. There’s a reason why they banned comics in the 1950s, and people worried that television would make people stupid.

      1. I think the current let it all hang out atmosphere of this presidential election is due to manners learned from the internet.

        Wait a minute, Jim. You think that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz learned their bad manners from the internet? You think that the 78-year-old who sucker-punched that black protestor learned his manners from the internet? You think that middle-aged guy who pepper-sprayed a 15-year-old girl at a Trump rally learned his manners from the internet?

        If that were the case, shouldn’t the Democratic Party be the one with the bad manners? Young people do tend to be Democrats, after all – or, at least, on the liberal side of the political divide. Sure, there’s plenty of bad manners to go around – although from a minority of people, in any case – but I can’t imagine why you think the internet has been the cause of that.

        Throughout my entire life, adults have worried that young people had no manners. I’d say it’s no more valid now than it was then. Maybe manners have changed, sure. But I’d take the manners of young people today over the manners on display in the Republican Party – by presidential candidates, no less! – any day.

  5. I’m a boomer and like you, I have computer skills but pick and choose what I spend time learning and using. You mentioned that your wife likes games and you don’t. Neither do I. We may be of the same generation but we’re not in lock step. Perhaps because I’m a bit of a sci fi geek, I’ve always loved the idea of VR. I’ve been waiting since the 80’s for it to be viable. And now we see the Rift and Google, Samsung, and soon Apple will be have units on the market. I know it will be a few more years before VR will be truly user-friendly and I’m very excited about the prospect. Besides the social interactions, travel programs, concerts, broadway plays, sporting events, whatever, VR will be put me there as I sit at home, looking ridiculous, but having a great time. I have a background in film and it will be interesting to see how story tellers meet the challenge of putting us in the middle of the narrative. I read an article that said that the movie Interstellar recorded a portion of the film in VR and invited a small San Francisco audience to view it while wearing headsets. I wish I’d been there.

    1. If I could see great plays and concerts via VR, then I might like it. But it still seems like a weird idea to me wearing that headset. I tried watching Treasure Island from 1934 on my iPhone 6s Plus, and holding it up close like a headset. My eyes wouldn’t focus. How do they handle that?

      Marjorie, you see more ready for the future than I am. I want 4k TV to watch old movies. And I love that my iPhone lets me listen to audiobooks so conveniently, but I spend most of my listening time enjoying books written long ago.

      1. The focus is a problem. I have a Beta Oculus and my computer isn’t powerful enough and I can’t wear my glasses. But I still can’t wait for VR to become more user friendly and offer more content. I was a theatre major at UCLA in prehistoric times and I’m with you on seeing some good theatre!

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