There’s a generational gap in the Internet and I might be on the wrong side of the canyon.

Greetings from my “Grandpa Box.”


If you’re wondering if that’s a term for some sort of geriatric storage container, no, it’s not. It’s what my 23 year-old son calls my year-and-a-half old top-of-the-line laptop.

“Grandpa Box.” It just sounds old. As if my sleek little machine were in the same class as steam trains, phonographs, black and white TV, and other musty technologies washed away by progress to make room for shiny new stuff like high speed Internet and giant screen smartphones.

There’s a Grand Canyon’s worth of difference between our respective generations’ preferences in technology and connectedness. For me, and the majority of people who’ve been online since the 14,400 baud days of dial-up, the computer – desktop or laptop – remains our main link to work, email, web browsing, instant messaging and social media (or bulletin boards & chatrooms as we used to call them). Sure, I have a smartphone and I use it for email, quick web lookups, texting and the occasional phone call, but it’s not my preferred form of accessing the Internet of Everything. For that, I have a laptop with a nice big screen, keyboard and touchpad.

My son, on the other hand, has a desktop computer with dual wide screens, but the only reason he uses it is for his college projects. (He’s studying to be a sound designer for videogames. Someday, I’m going to look up what that is). For everything else–email, texting, socializing, video, gaming, whatever–he’s on his phone or tablet touching, swiping, and jabbing his way around the net. His PC is a last resort on the rare occasion the device in his hand can’t do what needs to be done.

The gap between our generations isn’t just a simple matter of device preference either; it’s a fundamental way of thinking about the role these gadgets play in our lives. Listen to my peers and you’ll hear a lot about using a “mobile device” or “going to the computer.” For us, these are discrete objects we use to connect to the network that’s out there, separate from us. List to my son and his friends and you’ll rarely hear such words pass their lips. Why would they? For them “mobile” is assumed. They’re connected wherever they might be so there’s no “going” to the Internet because it’s always there surrounding them. They’re part of it.

Now this might sound like just an exercise in inter-generational semantics, but it’s far more significant than that. The majority of the working world is dominated by those of us who’ve been happily sitting at our desks with our PCs for decades. For us, smart devices are a continuation of the personal computing era and most of the mobile software, services and security we’re consuming are adaptations or extensions of our PC and network systems. The problem is, we’re wrong. The PC era came to an evolutionary dead-end with the laptop and WiFi. Computus Neanderthalensis stuck at the edge of the canyon.

The Millenials now pouring into the workplace forked off a while ago on to a road that’s leading them around the chasm and to places beyond. On their side, everything is integrated, connected, cloud-based everywhere, nowhere, and yet always right in their hands. More importantly, there’s no physical separation between work things and personal things. Work, friends, family, information, entertainment–all are available all the time, frequently intermingling on the same screen. To my son and his peers, it’s not a “mobile device,” a “smartphone,” or any other discrete object; it’s life in digital.

Attempting to force fit business policies and software developed for a past generation’s machines to the next generation’s fully-immersed lifestyle is about as likely to succeed as a caveman figuring out how to pilot a 747.

Where all this is going, I can’t say. But I imagine that bulky devices, heavyweight software, old-guard security tools and all the other stuff that was developed before the world fit in your pocket will fade away, replaced by lightweight, dynamic things that will adapt their behavior based on where you are, when you’re there and maybe even who you’re with. Some of this we’re already seeing with innovations like Google Now and “context-aware” mobile apps that serve up new information based on location.

I’m sure my son and his ilk will embrace these things and invent new ones we haven’t yet imagined. Me, I’ll have my mobile, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use it the way they do. I’m happy to keep my “Grandpa Box” until time and progress erodes the cliff and takes us both away with it.