As an early millennial, my generation (by now, most are well into their 30s) has experienced the largest technological transformation. We have lived through the era of Sony Walkmans, CD players, tape recorders, cassette players, pagers, answering machines and everything in between. By the time we were in high school, we were introduced to the Nokia series cellphones. I remember as a high schooler, I was excited to be among the first to own a cellphone. Oh wow, my Dad could finally check up on me anytime of the day! Every teenager’s dream come true! Nokia made beautiful phones, and today in 2018, I still have nostalgia for Nokia’s quality and the Scandinavian simplicity.
We were there when MySpace and Friendster launched not to as much fanfare as when Facebook was launched less than a decade later. Neither website was user-friendly. Still it was fun to spy on your buddies if they were on MySpace or Friendster. While we Canadians had ICQ, our American friends were on AOL. I am sure both countries used MSN Messenger. It was on ICQ that I learned the power of social networking. It was fun doing anthropology homework with your classmate via ICQ, if our dial-up connection was not terminated.
When I got to university, average price of basic laptops was still in the 4-figure range. Trust me, doing a presentation on one beast of a computer was not fun especially when the fan was whirling incessantly in a classroom where you could hear a pin drop. There was only one person in my entire lecture class of 1000 students with an IBM Think Pad. Today, IBM laptops have become a footnote in the history of computing, but IBM had its glory days when I was growing up.
About twenty years later, as I am trying to explain these relics of the past to another generation, I get blank stares as if I am from another planet. They have never heard of the Sony Walkman because they were born a few years before the launch of the iPod shuffle (even this has become an ancient relic, remember the little square size of a stamp?). The only world they’ve known consists of iPhones and iPads. It is a world of instant gratification where every worry can be resolved by an app from mental health counselling to “uberization” of daily needs. There is a great disconnect between my generation and this new generation (Generation Z?). Still, I think we have been the lucky ones. We have witnessed two different worlds. It has nothing to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall or the disintegration of the Soviet Union, although these political events also demarcate the two generations. We have been the lucky ones to witness the greatest transformation in our modern history. The technological developments that occurred before our eyes have made my generation more appreciative of all that we have. These modern conveniences are the result of building ideas upon ideas, truly a remarkable accumulation of knowledge and the power of innovation. I don’t see Kodak-Eastman or Nokia as markers of a bygone era, but rather as chapters in an encyclopedia of progress. Next time in a conversation with the younger generation, I insist that they learn this rich history. Only when we understand history can we avert mistakes of the past and build upon previous successes.