The Old Man and the Web

June 19th, 2009 |

About

I started out working with troubled children and families running residential facilities and crisis management teams. I have been a professional writer and spent ten years creating and managing social media. If that makes no sense to you, think how I feel. Want to know more? MarcScribe.com

Allow me to take a moment to introduce myself, but, since everyone knows how these old guys tend to ramble on, I will keep it brief. My name is Marc Mercer and I am a freelance writer and blogger, among several other things. I have been involved in managing and creating social media since way before we had a name for it. In fact, back in the day, it was called “interactivity”.

I started out with such antiques as IRC chat in the early 90’s. If you don’t remember those days, how fortunate for you. In the beginning, I was developing online communities for human services groups. I stayed with it as various interactive elements were added–Internet  forums, blogs, podcasts, video, picture galleries, VOIP telephone systems and so on.  I developed the first real online workplace that I know of–managing about 35 people scattered across the country. I still try to stay up with what is going on, but I fear to say that it gets harder and harder.  This has got to be the most rapidly evolving social environment since Adam ate the apple.

As you may have already gathered, I am a charter member of the Baby Boom generation–and I recently came to terms with the fact that we can no longer realistically be described as “The Youth Culture.”  To quote my favorite poet–me, of course–“We have left the field, my friends, with Jericho still standing.”

Not surprisingly, many of the clients of my new writing and consulting business are my age or older–and a lot of them want help in making use of what, for them, is a bewildering and sometimes even frightening environment.

I was recently talking to an old friend who is a fellow expert in crisis management techniques and volunteers at one of my human services clients. I suggested to him that he post his profile on Linkedin and Plaxo to enhance his business. He refused, on the basis that this would somehow get him phished and/or hacked into.

Another contact, responsible for the web presence at a non-profit, told me that she refuses to join Facebook because of one of the notorious “Myspace murders” that generated a media frenzy some years back.

Hmm, blame the medium not the message.  Following that logic, one should not use pens, pencils, paper or telephones, for sure. They have been used as instruments in far more felonies. As Woody Guthrie said: “As through this world you wander, you’ll meet lots of funny men. Some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen.”  Well, these days they may use a keyboard, I guess, but going on the web is still safer than going outside.

I also know a lot of young people–and some of them are willing to help an elderly gent cross the virtual street. I would say that most of them see the web as an extension of the real world and of their social environment. They may, indeed, break the rules now and then, but they want to maintain a credible, consistent identity and want to keep in contact with their friends. As we used to say back in the Sixties, “I can dig it.”

I think you get the idea–and, anyway, I am exceeding the upper limit in the word count for a blog post. I am going to write about the digital divide between people my age and older and the people who grew up with this stuff–and have never seen a typewriter, much less used one. That my friends, is The Old Man and the Web. I will likely be doing some interviews with representatives of both groups. If you have a take on the subject, get in touch. Better yet, Skype Me. If my hair is sticking up in back, or I don’t have my dentures in, there will not be any video stream.

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13
  • Aliceleste

    Great post and unfortunately too true. I know a VP of a business that is almost 100% eCommerce and he refuses to pay one bill online, or do any online banking. I am one of the Gen Y's, but I remember logging into mIRC's undernet when I was 14, creating my first web page with Angelfire, before free websites had to have 18 popup windows. Now I work and live online… it's a pleasant surprise to realize I started carving my niche when I was in my teens.

    Thanks for this post and letting me ramble a bit. Keep updating it with interviews – I will eagerly read!

    • http://www.marcscribe.com Marc Mercer

      Good to hear. Thank you and I most certainly will. I am not surprised to find a diversity of opinion when it comes to this stuff. I was expecting that. It is, in fact, a somewhat sensitive topic for a lot of people, as far as I can see. There are a few people who got it from the beginning, some who signed on at an early, but intermediate stage and some who are there now–and, I fear, some who are not there yet.

      Marc

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  • bob

    Enjoyed your post – caused me to want to share a comment:

    I remember back in day (late 70's / early 80's) at a company creating the first distributed ATM and banking network we used a tool called Vox to communicate with each other about various areas of interest. An online social network of sorts. Of course our parents thought the idea of putting a card into a machine and withdrawing money was nuts. I'm happy to say that my 85 y/o mother happily uses an ATM today.

    Not too long after I was working for a startup born from UCLA's CS dept. (where earlier two of the founders connected a local and remote computer over what was to become the internet – later we sort of snickered about this http protocol and web browser, well we were involved in really technical distributed systems work and thought it was a bit of a toy – duhhh..) At the time I think usenet newsgroups were the rage, perhaps another evolution of the online social network.

    Fast forward to today and I'm over 50 and am the co-founder of a company whose mission in life is providing technology to connect people and businesses. We're clearly hoping to be an important part of the current online social networks.

    Moral to my story – age is irrelevant, never stop learning and evolving. When you do the game is over.

    • http://www.marcscribe.com Marc Mercer

      I hear you, and you and I are a lot alike, but I am afraid that we are outliers. There is nothing shameful about that. In fact, it is a symptom of open-mindedness and intelligence. We need to see it that way.

  • http://www.smartswipe.ca Don Power

    Marc;

    I started out in IT (used to be called MIS) round about the time when my boss at a stock photo agency (millions of archived 35mm transparencies!) asked me to 'go out and see what this thing called the world wide web is all about'. Even back then, new web frontier pitchmen showed me pictures on the web – pornography to be exact – in their attempt to make a business case for this new medium. Plus ca changes?

    The Internet is a more sticky web today than it ever was – and that's a good thing. Is it a coincidence though, that the capitalist economy has crashed at the same apex of interconnectedness? Maybe we've all finally pulled back the curtain to discover a ridiculous clown has been pulling the strings all along…

    What will happen when millions (billions?) all clamour to pull their own strings?
    I hate to say it (a la your quip about the walls of Jerhico still standing) but perhaps Gil Scott Heron got it wrong…The Social Media Revolution WILL be televised…and blogged, and yes, even Tweeted.

    – Don Power (minted in 1968)

  • http://www.marcscribe.com Marc Mercer

    Sorry, I did not see your comment sooner. I do not know about you, but I feel like I am in one of those white-rat cages sometimes. You run and run, and always end up with an infinite distance ahead. You were born while I was in College, but it seems like we have one thing in common–we are always one step behind in the digital world. I use Facebook and I tweet and I Skype and I am signed up for an alert when the new Google Voice comes out. I figure out neat ways to set up collaborative environments and, hey, I am way cool, but I am still always a step behind and I still have to look at my age-related prejudices every now and then.

  • bob

    Enjoyed your post – caused me to want to share a comment:

    I remember back in day (late 70's / early 80's) at a company creating the first distributed ATM and banking network we used a tool called Vox to communicate with each other about various areas of interest. An online social network of sorts. Of course our parents thought the idea of putting a card into a machine and withdrawing money was nuts. I'm happy to say that my 85 y/o mother happily uses an ATM today.

    Not too long after I was working for a startup born from UCLA's CS dept. (where earlier two of the founders connected a local and remote computer over what was to become the internet – later we sort of snickered about this http protocol and web browser, well we were involved in really technical distributed systems work and thought it was a bit of a toy – duhhh..) At the time I think usenet newsgroups were the rage, perhaps another evolution of the online social network.

    Fast forward to today and I'm over 50 and am the co-founder of a company whose mission in life is providing technology to connect people and businesses. We're clearly hoping to be an important part of the current online social networks.

    Moral to my story – age is irrelevant, never stop learning and evolving. When you do the game is over.