The Oregon Trail Generation

I just got done reading an article called “The Oregon Trail Generation: Life Before and After Mainstream Tech.” It is a very interesting article and hits at a lot of points that are things I’ve thought about in the very recent past. I’m part of this group of kids (yeah I’m almost 33 but still call us kids!!) who were born in the early 1980’s. In my case, June of 1982. (Almost my birthday guys!!) By all definitions I am one of the original Millennials, having graduated from high school in the year 2000 (remember when it was called Y2K?). I actually fully embrace the title of Millennial, however, I do notice that there are HUGE difference between someone of my age, someone who is my brother’s age (and he’s only 3 years younger than I) and someone like one of my besties who was born at the end of the 80’s.

“We’ve been called Generation Catalano, Xennials, and The Lucky Ones, but no name has really stuck for this strange micro-generation that has both a healthy portion of Gen X grunge cynicism, and a dash of the unbridled optimism of Millennials.”

This is extremely spot on correct. Though I don’t quite like any of the weird terms. For one I have no idea what a Catalano is. And Xennials just sounds odd. Plus how are we “the lucky ones”? We graduated college into the same recession that the younger group of Millennial did. We’re just as “generation screwed” as they are. But, on the flip side, I do get the grunge cynicism and unbridled optimism. On a lot of things I’m very, very pessimistic. (Though some of that is due to the underlying depression.) For example, I don’t see how, given the current trends of the way this country is going, I’ll ever be able to afford the “American Dream.” I’ve got a bunch of student loan debt that I’m still trying to pay off (because we were told we had to go the best schools we could get into), and like most kids my age, I have a bunch of credit card debt. (In my case it was because I got stuck working part time for a spell.) But on the other hand, I still have this spark of Millennial hope that maybe, just maybe, if I keep progressing in the biz that I’ll be able to afford to own a house at some point. (Especially if I suck it up and keep driving my almost 10 year old car.) So yeah, tl; dr: I get it.

“If you can distinctly recall the excitement of walking into your weekly computer lab session and seeing a room full of Apple 2Es displaying the start screen of Oregon Trail, you’re a member of this nameless generation, my friend.”

Oh how I loved computer lab day. Or well…we didn’t exactly have a true computer lab in my grade school until I was in 6th grade and we were in the new Winston Campus building. It was more “corner of the library” day. But the excitement of being able to play Oregon Trail was just…amazing. Or Number Munchers. Or poking away on BASIC and later LOGO. In fact 2 random asides: 1) I’m writing this post in WriteRoom set up to look like a word processor that I would have used in the early 90’s to type papers (before that I was using a typewriter!) and 2) my twitter handle, @chernowa, was actually the way we logged onto the computers in grade school, since we had a rudimentary network available to us (mostly for printing.)

Oh, and more recently, you should have seen how excited I was when the overnight Master Control Operator showed me that you can play Oregon Trail, like the old Apple //e version, online!

“Did you come home from middle school and head straight to AOL, praying all the time that you’d hear those magic words, “You’ve Got Mail” after waiting for the painfully slow dial-up Internet to connect?”

Sort of. At my mom’s house we didn’t have a computer capable of getting online until I was just about in high school. (Though I had my own 386 SX/20 with a whole 4MB of RAM and a HUGE 100 MB hard drive. Oh and a 2x CD-ROM!! Just…no modem.) However, when we were at Dad’s house…oh boy did I get to use things like AOL pretty much when I wanted. First it was at his office, we’d go there and use the computer, then later he bought a computer for at his house and we had AOL on that! When we finally got a computer at mom’s that could do internet it was AMAZING. (It was a Pentium 75 with 16MB of RAM, a 1GB Hard Drive, and a 14.4 modem running on Windows 95.) That computer, with dial-up to a little local ISP was game changing. Not only did I use it to my advantage to make friends online, but I made friends offline too. A few of them I still talk to, occasionally, on Facebook. But yeah… Chat rooms, A/S/L, waiting an hour for one image (or since I was a geek, the latest CNET Radio) to download. Interestingly, I still have my AOL screen names from back then. One is still connected to my dad’s AOL account (which he still apparently pays for to use email) and one is a vanilla AIM name that I’ve used since the mid-90’s. (Though, almost no one is on AIM anymore.)

“Those born in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were the last group to have a childhood devoid of all the technology that makes childhood and adolescence today pretty much the worst thing imaginable. We were the last gasp of a time before sexting, Facebook shaming, and constant communication.”

“The importance of going through some of life’s toughest years without the toxic intrusion of social media really can’t be overstated.”

Yes we were the last group to not have social media, or the always on contact ability of today’s iPhones. But it was hardly non-toxic. Towards the end of the 90’s, when everyone was being inundated with AOL discs and seemingly everyone was getting on AOL, I was sure as hell made fun of on chat. It just, wasn’t posted virally onto social media. To say that we were totally devoid of the things that go into cyberbullying is not totally true. At least not in my high school. Where there was AIM, and a way to bully, kids would find it. Unfortunately. (I could go into a long drawn out rant, but I won’t. Just…I was that bullied kid in school.)

Oh and the Napster thing… I still haven’t forgiven Metallica for taking away Napster. It was one of the best, and most disruptive pieces of technology of the early 2000’s. Napster single-handily changed the way that we consumed music. It was what eventually made the push that the music industry needed to evolve to give us digital downloads, where we don’t have to buy a whole album full of crap for 1 song. Simply put, Napster, like it or not, was a game changer.

“When we get together with our fellow Oregon Trail Generation friends, we frequently discuss how insanely glad we are that we escaped the middle school, high school and college years before social media took over and made an already challenging life stage exponentially more hellish.”

Eh… Not totally. But it is something that I have thought about. And while we didn’t really have MySpace and the like until we were at graduation age from college, we did have things like Livejournal. Some of us poured our innermost thoughts out into the electronic bits of that website. And we made connections. And friends. All like you do on Twitter and Facebook now. But…without it being called a social network. (I’m still friends with someone whom I first met on Livejournal.) Yes, we did things differently when I was a kid. I remember having to set the timer on a VCR, and make sure the cable box was tuned to the right channel, to record a show. I remember a time when we rode bikes around the neighborhood. Or went to the park by the school to play baseball or kickball. All without having parents present, of course. We went to the neighbor kid’s house, or they came to use, without having to call first. Summers were spent outside, or if it was too hot, we gathered in the basement to play Nintendo. (Dr. Mario, anyone?) Yeah, things were a lot simpler back then (and we had better music too) but I like where we are. I like having social media. I like having an iPhone. I like having my music library in my pocket. Sure there are things I wish we could do differently, but who doesn’t?

This was a very interesting read, and a very enlightening one. I still say that I identify as a Millennial, and not as an “other” or “in-between” like some of my older friends who (especially those who don’t quite fit into Gen X) do.

Now excuse me… I’m going to crank up some No Doubt while I relax on the couch. (See what I did there?)