What happens when a Xennial digitally switches off? Not much it turns out.

I never felt like I identified with the Gen X’s or Y’s or Millenials. Now I know why.

I am a Xennial. Apparently, this term was used as early as 2014 to describe a micro-generation, those of us born between 1977 and 1983. We’re caught between the pessimism and cynicism of Generation X and, the optimism and drive of the Millenials. We grew up analogue but our adulthoods are digital.

We began to acquire mobile phones, little bricks of Nokia or Motorola goodness but, weren’t keen on using them for calls because it cost too much money. Now I can recognise why I’m a die-hard text-messager. My early habits were formed in written word at 7c a pop before emojis or emoticons and the language of Text that came next. #ROTFLDinosaur #WTFisahashtaganyway?

As a group, Xennials, we’re ‘square pegs’. There is a strange relationship with technology and the Interweb. We grew up using the ‘dog and bone’ that was fixed to a spot, you sent and received letters (stamp collecting was a thing), we collected 20cent pieces to use a phone box and photos were ‘special’. A roll of 24 exposures potentially meant 18 photos with a thumb in them. A computer was certainly not a natural piece of hardware in the home. So much of the technology we take for granted, we learnt as 20-somethings. We proved our adaptability but, not our lack of dependence. We can still use the Dewey System if we need to and Encyclopaedia doesn’t naturally mean Wikipedia.

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We wrote essays, trawled the library for texts to reference and submitted them by hand. I’ve had discussions with friends about how enormously glad we are that we escaped High School and Uni days without the intrusion of Social Media. At Uni, we had something called, ‘The Thursday Night Man’, a quickly penned weekly dossier outing dawn dashes, pashes, hook-ups, bust-ups and salacious gossip from on campus. A giggle and a blush at Friday morning breakfast but, then it was gone. No selfies, no drunken tweets or Facebook posts to follow or haunt us. We were able to negotiate an already challenging life stage with a little more innocence.

Those of us born in that space of time, late 70s and early 80s, were babies who have grown up on the cusp of changes that have transformed modern life. Like the housewives of the 50s with automated washing machines, we now have automation of a different kind, at our fingertips. Where to eat? Ask Siri. Turn the lights on at home? Ask Google.

Until 12 months ago, DHusband, was not ‘on’ social media. He is literally the last High School finishing year to do so without social media being part of his common lexicon. A bigpond.com email was his sole link to interpersonal web-based communication. Then he joined a web-based coaching group. The introductory email arrived and read something like –

“Thanks for joining us. Here are some steps to getting the most out of our coaching.

Step 1. Friend us on Facebook

Step 2. Join us on Strava

Step 3. etc. etc.

So, in January 2017, Dear Husband joined Facebook with a sigh.

Welcome to the New World, said I.

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The question I need to ask, is as an identified, Xennial, what happens when you can’t keep up with evolving technology or, you choose to stop keeping up? Is it the analogue youth catching up and yearning for a simpler time? I acknowledge it is easy to fall into the trap of feigning choice to hide a natural Luddite inclination.

What do I want from my social media? To be guided by clever algorithms to read more about what I’m already interested in, to make purchases based on my browser history and follow ‘people I might know’? Sometimes its just 5 minutes of looking at Instagram for pretty pictures of food, mountains or surf breaks while I tune out the cacophony that is pre-schoolers at play. Or, I’m ‘researching’, the best travel route, where to camp, where to run, elevation profiles of a bushwalk in exotic locations. With such a depth of real and unreal information at our fingertips, in our handbags and pockets, why wait and wonder when Google, Facebook or Instagram will provide an answer to any and all conundrums. If you don’t find an answer you were looking for you might just have picked up a new anecdote to keep you going a little longer.

Finally, last week I had had enough. I was tired of my own distraction. I reach for my phone, that mini-processor linked to the giant miasma that is the Internet to distract myself. To drift off. To not pay attention. Like a pokie feed, it’s just gazing for something to take my eye. A snappy headline, a pretty picture, a cute cat. But I am a Xennial. I can recognise this dependence on dopamine release linked to ‘innovative computational intelligence’. So, I put the phone away. I logged off Facebook and Instagram.

After four days (doesn’t sound like long but stay with me), I turned on Facebook to a meagre 57 notifications. Of those, just one was a direct tag, mention or request. A 20 minute timed catch up and, I turned it back off. I checked my email and when I did, I took the opportunity to unsubscribe from junk. Either it doesn’t interest me at the moment or, it’s advertising, pure and simple. Nothing to see here.

So while detached from my device, what have I noticed?

I’ve sat on the verandah and gazed. I’ve done an extra yoga. I’ve made extra cups of sweet lemon tea with DS and DX and shared them, chatting in the sun (not seeking shade to better reduce the glare on my screen). I’ve picked up and read an article in a good magazine. I’ve doodled ideas in my notebook. I’ve picked up discarded recipe books and planned feasts.

It’s so easy to become dependent on the distraction in my hand. It’s up to me to make a choice to be distracted by the most important distractions in my life.

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