But those four years puts us on either side of a generational fault line: I’m Generation X and he is Generation Y (even though he really, really disagrees with me). I say it basically comes down to this: Where were you when you met the Internet?
Yes, there are all sorts of pop culture misalignments as well. I mean, I consider myself a child of the ’70s, even though I was only 8 years old in 1980. The Muppets and Fantasy Island were too much a part of my life to think life began with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. I have vague memories of the 1976 bicentennial parade in my Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn. Grease was the first movie I saw in a theater, and John Travolta was my first major crush (oof).
When Nick was all obsessed with Cloak & Dagger and Goonies, I was gushing over Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. I graduated from college into a recession, and when Reality Bites came out, it definitely spoke to me as a recent college grad trying to figure out what to do with my life and how to do it in the big, bad city. Nick, still in high school, saw it as sort of an aspirational flick, in the way St. Elmo’s Fire was to me—I can’t wait to be that cool and fucked up. When he graduated from college, it was directly into Web 1.0 and the dot-com boom.
I know the beginning and end of generations are fuzzy and sort of meandering, but I believe technology is the dividing line for X and Y. Yes, it was my peers who created and worked at the start-ups everyone suddenly seemed to be at, but that didn’t mean I remotely understood what was going on. In fact, I remember having drinks one night in late 1994 with a coworker’s boyfriend who did something mysterious at NYU’s computer labs and asking him, “But what is the World Wide Web? How will I use it? Is there a map?” It’s one thing to see the front edge of a wave coming at you and another to enter into a world where the tide is already up the beach.
Not only did I not have email during college—I heard the term “electronic mail” a grand total of one time my entire four years—I was typing papers on my roommate’s ancient PC; Nick’s high school, meanwhile, was outfitted with Macintoshes and his computer classes taught him the Mac’s operating system, which at their core are still the same. He was making folders and learning Excel while I was printing my papers out on a dot matrix.
Only one of us moved into the age of digital fluency with ease.
Email, Web searches (anyone remember Metacrawler?), chat rooms—these were all utilities I adjusted to as a working adult, and they only gradually supplanted faxes, the proper way to address a business letter, and schlepping to the New York Public Library to fact-check an article. Meanwhile Nick was issued an email address when he showed up for freshman orientation, and he had all that free time as a student to master the Internet and go down rabbit holes without worrying his boss was looking over his shoulder. In short, one of us moved into the age of digital fluency with ease.
It really shows in how we accomplish every day tasks—even down to the apps on our iPhones. Nick demonstrates a touching (in my eyes) faith that he won’t get hacked or identity thieved, or be the victim of other digital crimes, and will happily snap a photo of a check to deposit it via his bank’s app. I still find that a bit too Harry Potter for me—why doesn’t the bank need the physical check? And Nick can’t imagine wasting time going to the ATM to deposit it. At Starbucks I still use my debit card or cash, while Nick pays with his phone. There’s some part of me that thinks: It can’t be that easy. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
He adapts to any new technology eagerly, while I hem and haw before I eventually take it on. Nick digitized his music and sold the CDs years ago, and rotates fresh music onto his iTunes from the cloud. I lost my CDs, my iTunes could be considered scattershot, and I still won’t use the cloud. He organizes his thousands of photos and keeps them on external hard drives. My photos are on my phone or laptop, end of story. He clears his email; I still have email in my inbox from 2004.
But my Netflix is streaming, household bill paying is automatic, and my domain names are hosted, and soon enough, I’m sure I’ll be convinced of the benefits of paying for everything with a tap of my phone. Ah, the benefits of having a younger man.