SHIFT: Welcome to Generation M

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy …

You know you're middle-aged when you're 10 years older than retiring pro athletes. You know you're middle-aged when you don't recognize a single artist name in the Billboard Top 10 except Madonna. You know you're middle-aged when your spouse suggests in her most come-hither voice it's bedtime, and you say, "but SportsCenter is about to start!" You know you're middle-aged when someone asks if you Twitter, and you ask, "Why, did someone relate an amusing bawdy anecdote?"

I am middle-aged. I realized this during research for an article I'm writing for an August issue of E-Gear on mobile social networking. Aside from discovering Twitter and my obvious middle-agedness, I also discovered a ginormous generation gap when it comes to one important aspect of technology. Read on to find out more about the widening techno-chasm between boomers and Generation M, or Generation Media, the Internet Generation.

At the beginning of Bye Bye Birdie, there's a musical sequence known as "The Telephone Hour" in which a mass of teenagers get involved in a viral phone call about their high school classmates Kim and Hugo getting "pinned." For you Gen M'ers, getting pinned meant Kim and Hugo (a heterosexual couple; there were no gay couples in the 1950s) had decided to go steady, signified by Hugo giving Kim a lapel pin. Oh … going steady means they committed to a monogamous non-sexual romantic relationship. Teens didn't have sex in the 1950s, either. But I digress.

The point is the viral phone call. Bye Bye Birdie opened on Broadway in 1960. In the nearly 50 years since, unchanged is the teen impulse to relate every bit of minutia about their social doings to their hundred bestest friends, but the technological method of such musings is worlds apart. In the age of Elvis, it was the telephone. In the age of Usher, it's the cellphone.

Oh, yeah. You know you're middle-aged if you remember Bye Bye Birdie.

A tale of two generations
I wanted to make the E-Gear article first-person, exploring my experiences updating my network and having them update me back. To delve into this multi-tap world, I invited dozens of my boomer friends and family to join me on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, RADAR, Mytopia, Loopt, JYGY and some other Web-based and mobile social networks.

Not only did I get not a single taker, but I got a lot of puzzled, "What would I do with it?" queries. Even after I explained the idea, my cronies couldn't figure out why anyone would need or want to constantly keep acquaintances updated on their nonexistent social lives and how anyone had the energy it took to do so. Clearly they all had forgotten their own frenetic teen years. As Ringo observed in A Hard Day's Night, "being middle-aged and old takes up most of your time."

Do you have to be middle-aged to know A Hard Day's Night? Or does Gen M know The Beatles only because David Archuleta screwed up the lyrics to "We Can Work It Out" on Beatles Week on American Idol? Anyway, I couldn't shake the image of middle-agers a century ago who understood what an auto-mobile was, but couldn't figure out what they'd do with it. After all, they really had no desire to go beyond the confines of their town and they had a perfectly good horse.

Yakkety-yak, please text back
Can I quantify how wide the Gen M gap is? Of course. I'm middle-aged. I live on statistics. According to a recent report from market research firm In-Stat, there are currently 14.7 of you millennials currently using mobile social networks, a number predicted to double in four years, representing nearly 16% of all cell phone users. Personally, I think that's a conservative estimate being made by middle-aged market researchers.

Why do I think the forecast is conservative? According to the CTIA, the 260 million cell phone users in the U.S. send nearly 2 billion — that's BILLION — text messages a day. If you're middle-aged and you're sending few if any text messages, imagine how many Gen M'ers are tapping out.

I occasionally trade text messages with my wife. I have only one friend who even knows how to text me. I'm obviously holding up my end of the Gen M gap. So excuse me, I have to bitch about the 30-something whippersnapper they just promoted over me, kick some kids off my lawn, clip the hair out of ears and nose, and suck in my gut and have a nostalgic wet dream about Joey Heatherton. Not exactly a list of accomplishments I want to text my peeps.