Many incoming university students were probably born sometime in 1995 when most of us had to actually sit at a computer terminal and “dial-up” to access the Internet. The noises associated with this extremely arduous process (by today’s standards!) are largely unfamiliar to this generation.
Generations past could not conceive of social media and their generation cannot conceive of a world without it. They grew up with communication and information devices; we grew up in front of television screens.
Hootie and the Blowfish had the bestselling album of 1995 when Jay-Z was still an aspiring rapper and a one-year old Justin Bieber was learning to walk.
Video killed the radio star and Napster killed the record store. Peer-to-peer downloading site Napster was introduced to the world in 1999 by a 19-year-old university student named Shawn Fanning. The original version of Napster will likely be unfamiliar to the class of 2017 because it was shut down by legal injunction in 2001 — three years before the launch of social networking behemoth Facebook. Together these historical events might represent the two most important cataclysmic moments of the millennial generation zeitgeist.
This generation has been shaped by technological innovations, like online downloading and the ability to interact on social networks, that together have become the way of life for the class of 2017, a generation my esteemed UBC colleague, Prof. Alfred Hermida, astutely observed is “growing up out loud” on social media.
For much of this generation, real-time information and social interaction is a byte-sized affair in a digital and largely online world, where living out loud in present tense is what constitutes living. Passing thoughts, activities, and even meaningful expressions are materialized in 140 characters (or less!) in mobile phone text messages and on online sites like Twitter. To endorse a serious cause or even your friend’s latest haircut you simply “like” it all the same by the click of button. Internet memes now serve as cultural reference points. Haven’t been “rickrolled” yet?
Once traditional concepts such as privacy or friendship are very different for the incoming students of the millennial generation. Privacy is now a profile setting on their social media accounts. Your friends might number in the dozens whereas their friends very likely number in the thousands.
For the class of 2017, “passé” can refer to something that happened merely an hour ago. Their language, idioms, and expressions are often referenced in some way to the Internet: tailored trends are those that appear on Twitter, not your wardrobe; viral is a reference to a virtual phenomenon, not a disease.
The millennial generation has grown up out loud living in the present tense where they also learn out loud by sharing their experiences and knowledge. Let us welcome new challenges and opportunities for learning out loud together.
Christopher Schneider is an assistant professor in the department of sociology at UBC Okanagan.
The Class of 2017 (Click the image to the full-size infographic)