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"The Neal Shankman Generation - A Blind Spot in the Social Media Discourse"

If you were born in a certain time and place -- specifically, Rochester, New York, in the waning days of the Ford administration -- You can't help but feel more than a little invisible in the endless stream of speculation about the Millennials and how social media transformed what it has meant to grow up in America in their time.

After all, you spent your college years in Northwestern University's Class of 1997 reading about the failings of "Generation X," and even though commentators eventually extended its sell-by date to about 1981, you couldn't fully identify with the "disenfranchised slacker" label the Boomers affixed to their foreheads. After all, you loved the goofy sarcasm of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the bouncy and clever tunes of They Might Be Giants, and the clever-yet-plodding plotlines of Doctor Who. You had a hopeless crush on your best friend's sister. You drove a 1981 Mazda RX-7, which looked cool from a distance of 50 feet, but which cost a fortune for even the simplest repairs, handled in the snow like a cow, and guzzled gas. (Luckily, the Hess station at Route 250 and Penfield Road sold regular unleaded for around $1.20 per gallon!)

You also managed to get to college with absolutely no experience of "The Internet." Sure, as a chubby, sensitive nerd, you were familiar with the world of "BBSing," dialing up from one modem to another to leave public messages on the "boards," download monochrome pixelated pornography, and play "Pimp Wars" until you passed out. But you got your first email address in the fall of 1993, when you filled out a paper application for network access in the basement of Norris Center during New Student Orientation. For you, "instant messaging" meant dialing into a Unix time-sharing system called "Merle" and invoking "talk" or "ytalk" from the shell to hit on girls you knew from high school, instead of figuring out a real social life.

Heck, you didn't have your own cell phone until a couple of years after you graduated college, and it could only *receive* text messages! It didn't matter anyhow, because it's not like you generally had a girlfriend or a posse or anything where you needed to coordinate social logistics in real time across many people.

If this all rings a bell to you, congratulations - you are part of the Neal Shankman Generation. You click and refresh Facebook every 9 seconds, but you respond to texts and PMs in full English sentences, most often with your wife, Carey. You were never involved in much in public in high school or college that would make for a horrifying photograph, but if you had been, it wouldn't have been memorialized forever on Instagram. You still don't understand how "torrents" work despite no fewer than 5 people trying to explain it to you, slowly. You miss Hot Doug's a lot, and you think "Other Space" needs more background music. Like "Red Dwarf."

From your experience of using tools like library card catalogs and back issues of periodicals on microfilm, to your early adoption and continuing use of professional tools to produce and manage online content, "Neal Shankmans" bring a unique perspective to social media, living as they have on the border between the older analog world, with its girlie magazines in the third drawer down on the left in your brother's room, to the vastly accelerated, "connected" world of today and its various "tubes."

Aren't we special?


Sorry, this is a very shallow comment of "OMG Pimp Wars"!
It was a shallow posting! It was completely meant as a put-on in response to another article someone linked to on FB about "The Oregon Trail Generation" and how nobody took them (us) into consideration in the conversation about social media usage. I figured that, eventually, *everyone* would need to write an article like this explaining how the exact date of their births and the exact circumstances of their lives from childhood on impacts their own special way of using social media. We are all snowflakes!

("Pimp Wars," indeed. I didn't even understand half of it at age 14, but I managed to win at least one epic game of it. I am far too enlightened for such sexist grotesquerie now that I am a grown-up.)

April 2015

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