#FastForward: Coming of Age in the Digital Age
I consider myself lucky. I was born and raised in a time before internet and 300+ TV channels, and being able to control your refrigerator with your iPhone. When you had to be home at 8:00 pm on the dot if you wanted to catch your favorite TV show and writing on people’s walls would land you in jail.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those luddites who despise technology and think it’s the end of the world. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. I LOVE technology. I embrace it. I read books on my eReader and make dinner plans via text and do my Christmas shopping with a single click.
But the reason I consider myself lucky is because I’ve been able to witness the rise of all these advancements. I remember what it was like to have to drive to the AAA store and buy a map for your next road trip, or ask people for step by step directions, or look things up in the phonebook. I remember what a phone book is. And therefore I feel as though I can fully appreciate things like Google maps and phone apps and the soothing voice of my car’s navigation system. More so than the generation that’s growing up not knowing any different.
A few years ago I was babysitting for a friend. Her two year old son and I were watching a Tivoed episode of Sesame Street. Like any human being with a developing personality and sense of taste, there were certain characters and skits in the show that he liked better than others. But I’ll never forget when Bert and Ernie came on and this two year old kid turned to me and made a pantomime motion of pushing on a remote button with his thumb. It took me a few seconds (and him a few more fake remote jabs) to realize that he was asking me to fast forward. He didn’t want to watch Bert and Ernie. He wanted to skip it and get to Elmo or Grover. And I remember being so blown away by this realization. This kid can’t speak yet. Can’t tell me what he wants for dinner. But he can tell me that he wants to fast forward through Bert and Ernie.
There is an entire generation of kids today who don’t know (and will never know) what it’s like to watch live TV. To be forced to sit through things you don’t like in order to watch something you do. And that is simply baffling to me.
Although I didn’t grow up being able to fast forward through things I didn’t want to watch or have an entire conversation with my friends using 140 characters or less, as an author of young adult fiction, it’s my job to understand what it’s like. If I’m going to write believable stories for teen audiences, I have to be able to put myself in the shoes of someone coming of age in today’s world. A world in which your embarrassing moments are not only at risk of being gossiped about…but at risk of being caught on film (sorry, digital video) and posted on YouTube for all to see.
Everyone knows your teenage years define you. It’s when you start to search for your own identity. Seek independence. Rebel from your parents. Try to figure out what kind of person you want to be and why. And in today’s modern society, those kinds of life-altering reflections are not done in private anymore. They’re done in public. For all to see. On the internet.
Today’s teen is growing up on Facebook and Twitter and Youtube. They’re posting things we use to only share with our closest friends in notes passed between classes. Photographs that used to be kept privately in our photo albums are now sitting on a server somewhere in Palo Alto, CA for all of eternity. You can no longer rip your ex-boyfriend out of a picture after he cheats on you. There’s no physical photograph to rip. All you can do is “unfriend” him. “Unfollow him.” Unsubscribe. But it’s only virtual. It’s not real. Like money in your bank account. It’s all just data on a screen. 1s and 0s.
This modern day setting for teenage life fascinates me and it’s what I set out to explore in my upcoming novel, MY LIFE UNDECIDED, about a girl trying to decide who she is and find her identity…through an anonymous blog. By asking strangers to make her decisions for her, she ends up discovering the person she wants to be. And it’s certainly not the person she thought she wanted to be.
I had so much fun writing this book and putting myself in the shoes of a girl who grew up in today’s “when you want it, how you want it” culture. And interestingly enough, what I found through my writing and research was that although today’s technology offers a whole slew of new social issues that teenagers have to deal with, being a teenager is pretty much still the same. The emotions are the same. The heartbreak is the same. The way you feel about your first kiss hasn’t changed with the times. And this made me smile.
Apparently there are some things that are not only universal. But timeless as well. Teenage life is hard. It’s trying. It’s memorable. It’s full of decisions that define you. Regardless of whether or not you grew up being able to fast forward through Sesame Street.
*First published on Get to the Point, a blog from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Filed under: Random Musings
Tagged with: behind the book My Life Undecided