View from the Middle

Photo of me in 1982I’m at the tail end of Gen X, born in 1979, but mentally I’m right there in the middle. And “middle” is a great word to describe this generation today. If I’d been born just a few years later I’d be one of those “digital natives” that everyone keeps talking about. You know, those people that grew up with digital technologies and (more so) the internet. The people that have no fear when it comes to technology because they’re just so gosh-darn used to using it for everything that they do. People often assume because of my age and the job that I do, that I am one of these people. Not so! The first computer I ever owned I bought in 2004 (I still have it). The first two years of work I did at the Smithsonian is saved on floppy disks. I hand-wrote every college paper, and in 1998 I declared the Internet to be a fad that was useful only for advertising and porn. The design school I attended taught me letterpress printing, black and white film photography, and stop-frame animation. I studied graphic design but never touched a computer. I’m still trying to get my head around basic web development, and don’t ever ask me a question about linked data.


This is why Gen X is lucky. We grew up in a non-networked world. We remember cassette tapes and floppy disks and video game cartridges. We made room in our suitcases for books and CDs and camera film. We weren’t able to immediately find the answer to every question. We took a break between sending something to print and collecting it from the printer. We wrote letters to stay in touch with remote friends. And then… we SAW IT ALL HAPPEN. I began my professional life in 2003. This was the year that launched Safari, Second Life, Skype, and LinkedIn (that last one surprised me, too). Apple opened the first iTunes store. Valve introduced Steam. The U.S. set standards for commercial emailing. 2004 brought MySpace, theFacebook, Gmail, Flickr, Yelp, Firefox, and World of Warcraft. Entering the workforce at this moment, I had to learn new things quickly to survive. I wasn’t old enough to be resistant to change, and I wasn’t young enough to take it for granted. I was in the middle.

Gen X witnessed the changing world. We participated in it, we changed with it. We saw the potential because we knew what it was like before. This is the advantage we have over the digital natives. We know and understand what has changed, and we are ideally placed to shape it. We emerged in-between a world with no internet and one where everything and everyone is connected. From here we can see everything; it’s a good place to be.