I am part of what "Grown Up Digital" author Don Tapscott calls the Net Generation. The Internet has been a staple in my life since elementary school. I lived through the dot-com boom and bust, saw the development of Facebook and remember my junior high hours on MSN instant messenger. My lifestyle is labeled as digital.
But as I thought about this and about what to write in my blog this week, I began to wonder exactly what I use the Internet for. So, I decided to break it down.
First and foremost, I use the Internet for communication. The first things I do when I open Safari or Firefox are check my university e-mail, personal e-mail and Facebook. I also use the Internet to receive, turn in and check homework or read announcements from professors. I probably do this four or five times a day, and I’m estimating it takes up at least an hour of my time a day.
Second, I use the Internet for entertainment. I watch free TV shows online, rarely watching anything on an actual television. I browse Wikipedia for kicks, looking up articles that interest me. I watch YouTube videos and occasionally use Grooveshark to listen to free music. I check when a video game or movie I’m anticipating is coming out.
Third, I use the Internet to answer my questions. When I want to know how to do something specific, such as remove a certain stain from clothing or learn a new effect in Photoshop, I Google it. I might also look to YouTube for instructional videos. When I’m writing a paper, I do all my research online. When I need driving directions, I go to Google Maps, preferring it to MapQuest. When I need someone’s contact information, I use White Pages, Facebook or that person’s personal Web site, and I can usually find an address or phone number. I don’t need a phone book or an atlas. I don’t need to visit a library.
Fourth, I use the Internet for paying bills and banking. I pay all my house utility bills from the comfort of my couch. I still go to the bank for deposits, but that’s the only way I use an actual bank.
Fifth and finally, I use the Internet for news. I get a free online edition of the New York Times dropped into my e-mail every day, but I don’t always read it. Even as a journalism student, the Internet is not my main news source. I read our student newspaper for most of my news.
I think that for most students, “news” has become “my friends’ Facebook status updates.” I try to avoid falling into that trap. But it gets harder and harder for college students to look outside their own virtual worlds to national and international news and care at all.
There we go – the basics of Internet use for one ordinary Net-Gen college kid. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Internet defines my generation. It’s our medium. It’s my medium. It’s part of my every day, but it’s like air conditioning or driving – it’s there and it helps me accomplish what I need, but it’s not what my life is about.