It’s 2019. Game of Thrones is ending, Baby Yoda has taken over the internet, and “OK Boomer” is being tossed around like confetti.
Who, me?! While the phrase can be traced back to online usage as early as 2009, it’s inarguably blown up over the past several years. Dismissive at best, ageist at worst, “OK Boomer” has brought shame and anger to many, and I’m tired of being lumped in.
I was born at the tail end of the two decades following World War II, and am thus—for better or worse—considered a Boomer. But I always fought against the label. It never seemed to fit. Being right on the cusp of Gen X, I always identified more with free-loving Beatles fans of that generation than the crotchety old “Boomers.” Even though I am of a certain age, the title just feels old; amplified even more thanks to phrases like the above. (Plus, we all know “X” is just a way cooler letter.)
No matter the label though, neither Boomers or Gen X grew up with social media. We’ve had to learn this language as adults—the ins and outs and social etiquettes that differ from platform to platform. Some readily embraced social and made it part of their daily lives while others did so reluctantly, coerced by friends or children. And some, proudly, remain fervent in their refusal. However, according to the Pew Research Center, “Eighty-eight percent of baby boomers have a social media account, and they use Facebook and LinkedIn to do so, with both platforms accounting for roughly one-third of all social media accounts.” So while we all know that one person puffing up their chest with a holier-than-thou reluctance to join, most of us are online and learning.
I myself am a “late adopter.” I observe how friends use new media and tech, then sooner or later I am a user too. My first brick of a cell phone in 2000? Never turned it on until I needed to make a call. Why would anyone need to reach me instantaneously? But as technology grew more compact and less expensive, my mobile phone became my only phone. And now it’s never not by my side, buzzing away constantly. I regularly check Facebook to see what’s happening with my family, friends, community, and interests. Twitter too, but less so—I’m not getting sucked into political arguments with strangers.
Perhaps my greatest disappointment as an older user, however, is Instagram. What started as a fantastic platform to share images is now too full of ads for me. I check in about once a week and occasionally post a photo. But the influencers aren’t directed toward me, and don’t even get me started on TikTok.
Overall though, I enjoy social media, and recognize its span of uses. Good vs. Evil. Impartial vs. impassioned. I’ve felt everything on Facebook from enlightened, infuriated, hopeful, frightened, disappointed, or just plain ol’ “LOL.”
After all, I don’t have to look far for a meme aimed to entertain my demographic. “A rotary phone! Let’s see if a teenager knows what it is or how to use it.” “A huge tube TV without a remote! How did we ever survive?” They all point to the same self-deprecating message: I bet you feel old now!
Unsurprisingly, the biggest culprits of this trend are not necessarily Millennials or Gen Z, but my own cohorts. Self-owned in their digital lapses, many memes and images are posted (and I suspect are created) by my peers. We can’t go home again, but we can see a sign from a restaurant we ate at with our parents in the 70s and reminisce. We can connect with others, strangers even, thanks to this sweet digital nostalgia. Not too long ago, these remembrances and stories were spoken within a select group and easily lost to time. Now that select group is virtual and contains millions, a permanent stamp of something that might otherwise be forgotten.
Of course, on the flip side of humor is what the internet does best: antagonism. Boomers repeating the same negativity about Millennials and Gen Z that often gets pointed towards them (us) in the spirit of “OK Boomer.” But really, we should be called on this thoughtlessness. It’s not the same world we grew up in. Times and politics and social issues change, so of course the people most plugged in are going to change too. Culture changes. And the generation who created, participated, and benefitted from the Sexual Revolution, Black Power Movement, Women’s Lib, Earth Day, and more, should know better.
I have many happy memories and dear friends and family to reminisce on them with, but I also want to look forward. Nostalgia is a longing for a past that may actually not have existed, idealized only now as we see relics posted on our walls or sent to our DMs. It’s ignoring the future, maybe even dismissing it.
Forward is learning. Past is remembering.
Remember kiddos: today’s TikTok is tomorrow’s “who knows?” (It’s certainly not Vine.. RIP.) Nostalgia comes for us all, and is already hitting some of the younger generations. You may be revisiting your 20s decades from now in a whole new way, via smart glasses or Metaverse or whatever the next big digital frontier is. Just be sure to keep up with the new or you’ll be living in the past.