Digital Generation Gap
For kids, computers are almost guaranteed to be communal, if only for parental control.
“What are you doing?” The accusatory tone caught me off guard.
“Um, I’m using the computer?” My fingers slowed as I flubbed the web address I was typing in. He raised an eyebrow and hovered over my shoulder.
“You didn’t even ask to use my computer,” he said, a mild annoyance in his voice. “And you’re typing the address in wrong. It should pop right up if you did it right.”
I pressed the delete button, watching my mistakes disappear in an instant. I began retyping, but before I could finish the address I gave up and stepped away from the machine.
My friend’s reaction surprised me and caught me off guard. Certainly, I understand the emphasis on personal in PC, but the ethical code of computers means I won’t dig through his private stuff. His porn is as safe as mine.
We had been friends for several years, but perhaps for the first time we had a palpable generational gap.
Though I had my own computer from a young age, the computers in our house weren’t personal. I would play on my mom’s computer, competing with her for the Tetris high score. I would play on my dad’s computer, using CompuServe and dialup internet, which my modem-less computer couldn’t access. My computer, which was generally hand-me-down spare parts as a kid, wasn’t good enough to warrant my parents’ time.
Those of my friends savvy enough to have their own computers also shared with their families. My best friend’s family had one computer in their small condo. When we played games on it, there was always a chance his dad would come home and boot us off.
In 8th grade, I built my first non-hand-me-down personal computer and carted it off to New Hampshire. I was one of the few kids with a full rig, and since laptops were still reasonably new and very expensive, only the richest of the rich had one. At boarding school, the number of kids with their own personal machines was slim and we’d often trade off at the keyboard for games or applications.
I made a fair bit of money using a credit card generator and signing up for fake accounts on AOL so kids could download porn. Floppy disks of images or X-rated games (like a very pixilated strip poker game) were passed around with hushed excitement. Everyone had an inherent understanding that computers were not private unless you made them so.
My friend, ten years my senior, doesn’t have tech savvy parents. Sure, they use a computer now, but so does my grandfather. His computer has always been his computer and no one else’s.
When I sat down and began futzing with the keyboard, searching for fantasy football stats, I assumed he understood the same commandments that I operated by.
Computer Owner Commandments
- Thou shalt password protect thy machine if thou does not want intruders.
- Thou shalt create a guest account if thou wants separation.
- Thou shalt learn how to admin.
- Thou shalt hide thine porn, or at least make it inconspicuous.
- Thou shalt protect thine important data, using external means if necessary.
- Thou shalt encrypt thine torrents to protect the innocent.
Guest User Commandments
- Thou shalt not attempt to crack a password on another man’s computer.
- Thou shalt not dig for the porn folder.
- Thou shalt not read personal emails or personal files of another.
- Thou shalt open a new tab or window, so that thy business is kept separate.
- Thou shalt not install nor uninstall software without informing the owner first.
- Thou shalt inform the owner of any downloads (or torrents, post-2004) initiated.
When the computer is no longer personal, these rules no longer apply unconditionally. Libraries, work computers, public terminals, these are fair game for all sorts of pranks. In a dorm or common living space, computers also lose a little of their natural privacy. Though it’s poor form to set someone’s homepage or change their background to tubgirl, it’s perfectly acceptable.
“To me,” I stated, “a computer is like a bedroom. Yes, it’s a personal space, but I still let people in, and my personal stuff is hidden in the closet. It’s not like people dig around in my closet, and if they did I would be pissed. To you, though, the entire computer is the closet.”
He nodded at my analogy, the tension now dissipated and order restored.
It’s difficult for me to realize that not everyone has grown up with the same level of technology I have. Though my code of conduct guaranteed that I wouldn’t mess with my friend’s data, he wasn’t used to others being anywhere near his computer, nor did he know of the existence or nature of my code.
When I traveled, I was very aware of the differences in culture. I constantly studies up on tipping conventions, insults to avoid, and matters of common courtesy that I might not be familiar with. It was both intimidating and refreshing to experience the differences and adjust for them.
In my own country, I rarely run across a social situation with unfamiliar expectations. Even those in which I don’t feel wholly comfortable, such as religious services or dances, I know enough to get by and extricate myself if necessary.
To find myself in a comfortable situation with a difference in social code is both uncommon and somewhat baffling.
The most difficult part now is figuring out if I need to adjust my understanding of such a social situation or if I should expect my friend to adjust his. I suspect the upcoming generations are, after all, more like me than him.