Wired Magazine on ‘The First Digital Generation’


They are the Nisei of cyberspace—the first generation born into a world that has never not known digital life and so never had to adjust to it as the rest of us settlers have. Like all Nisei, they understand the new world in ways their parents never will and speak its language with far more fluency. If you want to understand the past two decades, they are perhaps the perfect subjects. The drumbeat of disruption and technological advance that has defined the past 20 years is their natural rhythm.

Nisei is a japanese word meaning ‘second-generation’, and usually refers to the children of immigrants – those who had never lived in the family’s country of origin. Those born in the early to mid 1990s -1993 is the year used by this Wired article – have grown up in the digital world. What does it mean for a generation that has not known another world, but has been formed by digital culture? The author of the article, Jerry Adler, has some interesting observations:

On one hand, millennials consume so much media they can’t concentrate, torn as they are between texting, posting on Facebook, and watching YouTube. And yet they also have an astonishing ability to focus on elaborate videogame play for six-hour stretches or to watch complex, multistranded television dramas in binge sessions that can swallow a weekend.

On how important texting is to understand the new generation:

Texting is perhaps the most efficient form of communication ever invented, stripping messages to a fine-grained, asynchronous channel. It is at once intimate, allowing communication on a level of informality that would be unthinkable in any other medium, and distant—replacing a commitment to a conversation with a series of one-sided communiquès. “Phone conversations make me anxious,” says Jennifer Lin, a freshman at Parsons the New School for Design. “I don’t like calling people and having them not answer. I don’t want people around me hearing what I’m saying. I don’t want to have to think about how to end the conversation—OK, bye, later, see you. I don’t want to talk to people. And it kills my batteries.” […] And the lack of immediate feedback cuts both ways, psychologically. To be 20 is to wonder why you haven’t received a response to your latest message, to live in fear that your sarcasm was misunderstood. The younger the person, says Amanda di Bartolomeo, a Los Angeles psychologist, the more impatient they are for a reply. They devise elaborate theories involving lost phones, sudden term papers, and cool parties to which the sender wasn’t invited.

Should you be worried about over-sharing on social media? Won’t you regret it later?

She is casual about what some might consider the risks of oversharing. In the future, she says, it won’t matter if you did post a picture of yourself covered in chocolate, because “the people who care will all retire and the world will be run by my generation, which doesn’t give a shit.”

To understand this generation, Adler says, you have to understand the video-game-effect on how they view navigating life:

Videogames have also shaped how millennials strategize about life. These games impose a worldview subtly different from the precomputer one, in which a game required formal, transparent rules. Millennials grew up playing games into which creators had inserted hacks, shortcuts, and trapdoors for players to ferret out—or learn of from friends. “The evolution of games started to mimic the complexity of real life,” Wong says. “Life doesn’t come to you in a box with an instruction book.”

Adler concludes:

This, perhaps, is the most profound of the digital Nisei’s new rules: Make no distinction between the real and the virtual. Actions that begin in one realm play out in the other. They are interwoven.

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