Email and Generation Gaps

My wife and I are constantly frustrated by sending emails and not getting replies from people.

It occurred to me this morning that email probably signifies an interesting generation gap of the “8 track” variety. While certainly email has technically existed for decades, and continues to be used, email saw its heyday in the late 1990s and first few years of this century. As a casual form of communication, it has largely been supplanted by texting and social networking.

There are still those Luddites, even in their 20s, who have resisted the rise of technology and insist on the superiority of face-to-face conversation (which I, for one, have always found highly problematic), telephone conversation and/or handwritten communication. However, as a general norm, those born after, say, 1980, are more likely to prefer texting, and the younger they are, the more this is so.

I read an interesting article in a local parenting magazine last year by a mother who was trying to invite her teenager’s friends to a party, and her teenager gave her a list of phone numbers–which she found odd, since she expected a list of emails. So she tried to call each teen on his or her personal cell phone, and did not get a single answer or callback.

Then, in desperation, she tried sending a text to one of the kids. She got an almost instantaneous response. By texting, she was able to get an immediate response from each and every kid on the list–a much better success rate than either email or phone.

On the other end of the spectrum are those 50 and above who may have adapted to all this technology but did not necessarily grow up with it. They may use email, texting and/or social networking–they may use it as much as those of us under 40–but they don’t see it as their primary or preferred means of communication.

There’s that very common experience of “Mom” (or “Dad” or “Grandma” or “Grandpa” or whomever) calling up and saying, “Hi, I got your email!”

Regardless of artificial or argumentative distinctions between being a “geek,” being “gifted,” being “eccentric” or being on the Autisic Spectrum, the fact is that Hans Asperger rightly identified a basic personality type that doesn’t socialize well with others. In any literal or metaphorical playground, you’re going to find a small percentage of kids who prefer to read, sit by themselves, or play imaginative games by themselves rather than engage in the more popular group activities.

Those of us who are like that came easily to technology–and it was our forbears who invented the Internet in the 1970s to begin with.

My generation was the first in which it was actually “cool” to be a “geek,” both in terms of computers and in terms of popular culture interests. Mine is the generation of Comic book conventions and toy collecting, a generation embodied by Shawn and Gus on _Psych_.

In any case, those of us born in the 1970s are probably the only generation who grwup on email as a principle form of exchange and consider it our preferred form of exchange, especially when we discovered it as a liberation from the unpredictability of face-to-face conversation and the inscrutability of facial expressions.

Thus we find ourselves in a world where we struggle to communicate with those both older and younger than we are, because to those older, our preferred means of communication are newfangled faddish technology, and to the younger, our preferred means of communication are passe.

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