Must I feel like an old-fashioned person in a digital first world?
Words by Jessica Nicholls.
I’m drawn to what a friend of Linda Lee Porter’s (wife of Cole) once said of her, “Linda was devoted to old-fashioned customs, but not to old-fashioned people.”
I don’t like digital substitutes to analogue tasks. If I can see someone in person, then it’s rare I’ll call them on the phone. If I can’t, then I’ve always preferred letter-writing to Skype. Deliberate, lasting, full-bodied: that’s the kind of communication I want.
I disguise my prejudice as best I can. I’m on Instagram but not Facebook. I participate in WhatsApp groups but I’m usually the quietest member. These efforts – however half-hearted – are a genuine attempt to temper my old-fashioned tendencies, in case I become an old-fashioned person.
Would I be socially isolated if I didn’t join in? Probably not. But would I miss out on things I’d rather not miss out on? Definitely yes.
So far I’ve been fortunate to find like-minded friends nearby. But my preference for in-person contact is beginning to feel under threat as friends move out of London and grow into busier lives.
I do battle with myself, unhappy that I might one day be seen as the neglectful granddaughter or the absent friend if I fail to change. I’ve been caught out already with complaints from certain friends and family about ‘why do you never answer your phone?’. I’m all too aware of the subtext – you’re unacceptably useless with your phone for a millennial – and it makes me sad.
A part of me finds solace in the millennial label; in the acknowledgement that we’ve grown up under our own set of peculiar circumstances, just like every generation before us. We entered a globalised world of ubiquitous internet access and digital technology, and these formative experiences have shaped a more open, socially tolerant set of attitudes and beliefs. But another part of me feels alienated by the characteristics we are expected to share. Many millennials feel digital is not a mere improvement on in vivo contact and engagement, and crave real, not virtual, interaction.
I confess these things not because I don’t believe in digital ephemera. There’s excitement in the fleeting interaction with a stranger on Twitter; nostalgia in the magazine clipping you take a picture of and share with a friend because it reminds you of them. There’s even joy in seeing a friend’s success reflected on LinkedIn. I wish my grandma had email so we could show one another more of what we see and do.
Which, again, is not to say that the digital deals only in passing things. I’m a communications consultant and I see first-hand how digital channels allow companies to interact meaningfully with their followers over time. This is an extraordinary age for connecting people to information and ideas which is not just instant and disposable.
My frustration is mainly that digital worlds make it even easier to discriminate against the old (we need a new word for old, by the way). Why are we expected to want new things above all else? And when did old become inherently less desirable? Of course, old in some contexts is still the most desirable – heritage, tradition, culture and religion. Instead I refer to old as it is used in relation to a newer thing.
The binary of old versus new has long-been used to discredit outdated models – this is right where change is needed. But, as it becomes harder to opt-out of newness (my phone punishes me by becoming slow and uncooperative if I fail to subscribe to the latest update), it seems more and more is prematurely consigned to the past. If this is how feel at 29, I can only imagine the incomprehension and estrangement felt by leagues of older people for whom the past holds so much of their identity.
I don’t believe in the intrinsic value of old or new things. It is for individuals of whatever age to decide what matters to them. As newness gains disproportionate currency, I don’t want to feel like an old-fashioned person in a digital-first world.
Jessica Nicholls is the Senior Consultant at Linstock Communications, a communications consultancy using evidence, insight and creativity to achieve business goals.
"I don’t believe in the intrinsic value of old or new things. It is for individuals of whatever age to decide what matters to them."
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