This story was written by Lori, one of our interns from earlier this year. Lori is currently a student at the NYU Stern School of Business.
I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure out when the internet was born. Like an app or a website, I assumed it had a momentous start date, an embarrassing preliminary title and a few distinguished founders. So here I am, an unfortunate amount of unsuccessful google searches later, and I can promise you that aside from there not being one founder of the internet, there is also no one day in which it began. As someone who spent the first 18 years of my life in Silicon Valley, I feel like I’ve disgraced my people. But have I?
A Child of the Internet
Vague and vast, the origin of the internet is a question that perhaps no one has the answer to. Steps to create the internet began as early as 1961. Fast forward to 1976 when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak completely changed the game by creating Apple Computer. In 1983, Cisco Systems was founded. In 1992, Jean Armour Polly first used the phrase “surfing the internet.” The year is 1995, Sun releases Java, and I am born.
Growing up in the heart of the explosion of the internet never quite allowed me to understand the gravity of what was going on. Everyone was around me was a step ahead, yet this seemed like the norm to me. My entire immediate family, excluding my 4 year old sister (for now), is a computer engineer. Dinnertime conversations were a perpetual circus of technical jargon that I still don’t understand. I was growing up during the rise of the internet in the heart of its surge.
At the ripe age of 12, my internet experience consisted of Neopets and my Yahoo email address (my alter-ego was dramaqueen_95). And then my friend told me to sign up for Facebook. For the past 7 years, Facebook has been a cornerstone of all of my web activity. Although I was not around for Facemash or thefacebook.com, I remember when Facebook was an invite-only website. The transition from wall-to-walls to “friendship” pages rocked my world and I will never forget the excitement I felt when I finally got access to graph search.
Ahead of the Game
As new trends emerged, I was always one of the first to know. I never spent my days perusing blogs trying to figure out what was considered “hot,” but simply as a millennial, I was able to pick up on the rising tech fads. Throughout high school, adults perpetually asked me for my opinion on popular websites, social media advice, and an answer to the question of “what are kids into these days?” I began to realize that my brother, who’s only a few years older, and I had barely any of the same online experiences. He had never heard of some of the websites that all my friends were on. Where was the gap? How was it that the person who was my go-to for all thing tech was suddenly out of touch?
With apps like Snapchat and Instagram popping up, my peers and I started scooping up the products immediately. It took no more than a few weeks for them to sweep my generation. Second only to texting, Snapchat became an integral form of communication. Instagram’s rise was just as swift, quickly overcoming Twitter and paralleling Facebook in popularity. However, through this entire upswing of innovative apps, my parents had absolutely no idea what was going on. Most 30-something professionals were also completely oblivious to the apps which became such a crucial aspect of Generation Y’s lives.
Then I experienced a shift. As an avid user of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, I like to think I’m what’s considered “tech savvy.” I understand the intricacies of Tumblr and can navigate Pinterest. Yet I’ve now reached a point where I no longer know what “kids are into these days.” The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch reported on five sites that teens used aside from Facebook. Since it was an article from November 2013, I assumed I’d know all of them. However, I’d never even heard of two of the five and only actually used one of them. I recently heard about Kik, a new messenger app that now has over 100 million users. How is it possible that 100 million people are using and talking about this app and neither my friends nor I have ever heard of it? Maybe this is what they meant by “growing up.”
It’s unfair to pigeonhole my experience into just the internet. Now, people’s interactions with technology span beyond the internet and into new gadgets and apps. With age comes an inherent deterioration of ones ability to keep up with new advances. The generation of high school and college students will always be more in tune with what’s considered popular because they are the ones who drive this decision. However, technology’s growth rate is picking up more rapidly than ever before. New technology builds on newer technology as what once took the strength of huge corporations can be done with the smallest startups.
At no point was it clearer to me that I was no longer up to date with technical innovations than when I first saw someone walking on the street wearing Google Glass. Having parents who work at Google exposed me to the world of Google innovation early on, but never did I expect to see such a radical invention implemented in my lifetime, let alone before I was done with my teen years. Now, you can find videos filmed on Google Glass of anything from a first date to a first sky dive. Hangouts are no longer limited to computers and Siri exists before your eyes.
What’s the point?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked up to my parents and their peers, seeing them as the faces of innovation and technology. Never did it occur to me that the people truly driving the innovation and trends were none other than my own peers. The purpose of creating new technologies is to map out what users will want before they know they will want it. I feel as if I’ve been wearing blinders my whole life, not realizing that what I like to do is being carefully monitored to figure out what’s next in innovation.
It is only now that I am making my way through college that I realize that this is the case and that I am no longer the key demographic that is so cluelessly driving the direction in which we pioneer. Yes, I am still in the 18-24 age range which is so key to the tech worlds decision-making. But now I see, clearer than ever, that those that I looked up to are actually adapting to what people my age (and younger!) want. But what do we know? We’re just kids these days.