Historical generations are not born; they are made. They are a device by which people conceptualize society and seek to transform it.
(Wohl, The Generation of 1914, 1979: 5)
New media technologies—whether the microphone, radio, television, or the Internet—can become powerfully associated with a generation. Their initial magic, the heady feeling of new capacities and affordances, can create a marker for generational memory. Black-and-white televisions beaming out the moon landing, Orson Welles terrifying radio listeners with tales of alien invasion, or images of mass protest in Egypt ricocheting through Facebook and Twitter: the platform becomes an inextricable part of how an event is remembered and mythologized as a defining moment for a generation. But new media technologies can also emerge as part of a generationalizing strategy, where they are used to mark out a particular age group as different or problematic. This chapter will look at the recursive dynamics that surround new media technologies and generations: from the media histories of generational categories through to the emergence of the “digital natives” as part of a long line of “us and them” identity polarization around emerging media forms. We will then consider what other factors, aside from age, might give us a more nuanced understanding of new media use.
For the past hundred years, young people have been ...