How Millennials Have Shaped the Digital Landscape
I’ll admit it. Like most millennials, I do have an unhealthy relationship with the digital world. I sleep with my phone, I care about how many “likes” my last post received, I have an Instagram account for my dog, I EVEN got emotional reminiscing about the death of AOL.
But, do you know why?
Because I grew up on these channels. I look back on AIM profile screenshots probably in the same way that our parents see the old diner they had their ten cent root beer floats in. These social media channels were where my friends hung out after school, where we’ve grown up.
It’s an odd reality for sure, but one that we should not be blamed for.
While writing my last blog post, Chatbots Are Friends, I became very aware of how fast social media has evolved.
If you think about it, Snapchat only launched in 2011. Those filters have only been here for 3 years–and now our 3D Bitmojis can be seen acting out what we’re doing on an interactive Snap Map of the whole world!
Let that sink in.
Yes, we continuously talk about how fast social media trends are changing, and joke about millennials as they make the need for “distracted walking laws” to be something we legitimately have to consider; but take a look at the timeline below, understand the evolution of our expression through these channels, and then decide if anyone is to blame.
Timeline of Social Media Dependency
Ground Zero. The Desktop Was Born – 1964
Home computers didn’t even become common in households until the 1980’s… And they didn’t become common in my house until ~1997, when my neighbor and I would either play Microsoft Paint, Solitare, or our favorite Candy Land game (that usually crashed the PC).
You remember these days because it would take about 15 minutes to turn on the computer if you had to boot-up the desktop (assuming there wasn’t anyone on the phone at the same time).
There wasn’t even a world wide web until 1989!
AIM Initiated The Addiction – Late ‘90s/2000s
Fast forward to the mid-2000s and AIM was the place to be.
Arguably the gateway to our addiction, AOL Instant Messenger was the first time we could interact with all of our friends for extended periods of time, while having the ability to let them know our feelings, activities, favorite quotes.
We didn’t have texting back then, we weren’t used to being able to chat with everyone at any given time (as long as they were logged in).
We created our own language of ily, brb, and h8r. We had buddy lists to sort our friends and got creative with “x” to create spaces in usernames, for example “thosex3xwordsXxILY.” (Yes, shout out to Snow Patrol for my first screen name.)
This was the Twitter before Twitter, the first time we could leave a status in the digital world, and define ourselves through it.
We could articulate our mood through either passive-aggressive Kelly Clarkson lyrics or hit our buddies with the simple “Away” or “Brb” to keep them guessing.
In a short time, more and more customizations became available. We could do window background colors and cool new fonts, and in 2006 we could link to an extended profile where our friends could fill out quizzes and read multiple descriptive paragraphs about us. It was neat.
Myspace Was a Playground For Coding – 2000s
Then, Myspace came out and changed the whole game.
Instead of the chat feature focus AIM had, Myspace was a whole customizable profile.
We were now able to have a profile picture (usually taken at a 45-degree arm angle with a duck face* and peace sign), a featured song, a customized “about me” with accompanying images, and a feed of recent conversations with people all on one profile!
Digital profiles became very unique. We were doing crazy HTML coding to format the page how we wanted. We could hide our music with a code snippet, align our images in our bio, create one column or two, and have functioning templates that “rained” stars and glitter behind our profile, with a simple copy and paste.
We were customizing our own websites, without even knowing how advanced we were.
And socially, we were in deep commitment to self-expression. From focusing on friend rank in the top 8 of the profile, to judging the conversation between friends on walls, we were given a whole new dimension of information on our friends and how they wanted to portray themselves.
This is why, from 2005 to 2008, Myspace was the largest social networking site in the world, and in June 2006 surpassed Google as the most visited website in the United States–because we were finally able to get to the next level of social interweaving and instantly we were addicted.
The Exclusive “Mature Myspace” Was Born, Facebook – 2004
Facebook was initially launched solely for Harvard students, it then expanded to other colleges in 2006 before expanding to the rest of the (13 years and older) population.
I remember thinking “why do I need a Facebook when I have my perfected, more customized Myspace?” But, following suit, I moved my attention over to the new platform and enjoyed the new features, like the status updates of “what I was doing” in a newsfeed and photo albums.
Little did we know, Facebook was just getting started.
Businesses joined the conversation with chatbots and customer service representatives and journalists began sharing articles for reshares. The digital realm became a place of not only conversation of self-expression, but an all-encompassing resource of communication.
And all bets were off when Facebook launched Facebook Live, allowing us to watch and simultaneously react to live news, in real time. We hit the gold star level of community connection and opinion-sharing.
Twitter Cut the Fluff – 2006
With all of our built-up angst, it was only a matter of time before there was a social network that allowed us to cut the fluff and tell the world what we thought, when we thought it, as frequently as we wanted.
As of 2016, Twitter had more than 319 million monthly active users.
Even though our messages were restricted (originally to 140 characters, until it doubled to 280 characters in 2017), it was/is a perfect portal to get our opinions out fast and efficiently.
Twitter also was responsible for the birth of the Hashtag (formerly known as the pound or number sign) which allowed us to interweave and “retweet” people we agreed with, even if we didn’t know them. Suddenly things were able to “go viral” across the world.
And just like that, Millennials connected the entire world through the hashtag. Revolutionary.
Just recently, Twitter has become my go-to tool for fast news updates, without having to read full articles.
If you search a news event, the top of your search results will often be news tweets for fast facts.
On the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter proved to be the largest source of breaking news, with 40 million election-related tweets sent by 10 p.m.
Instagram Lends More Visual Appeal – 2010
On the contrary, Instagram was (and is) celebrated as a way to show instead of tell, which has proven to be something we all love. Everyone in the world can now be an artist, showing his/her life through well filtered, tasteful lighting and positioning.
It launched in 2010, had one million registered users in two months, had ten million in a year, and ultimately 800 million users as of September 2017. And as of October 2015, Instagram users had uploaded over 40 billion (with a “b”) photos to Instagram.
Maybe my favorite result of social media is the birth of memes and meme accounts, which happened solely through Instagram.
It is amazing that people all over the world can look at a viral image with a relatable caption, and laugh. It’s a special kind of bonding that we share that would not exist without the digital, social media realm. And for that, I am appreciative.
Snapchat Takes Personal To Next Level – 2011
Lastly and most recently, we can talk about the social network of all social networks, Snapchat.
I don’t think Snapchat has peaked. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon, even with Facebook and Instagram piggy-backing on its features. It’s continuously evolving.
Snapchat started as just a way for one person to send a temporary image to another person.
Then, we could add these digital images to a story where it can live for 24 hours. Then, we could save it to our Memories. Then, we could add excitement through filters that would find our face–I could have a rainbow coming out of my tongue every time I opened my mouth!
When the hype of filters came down, Snapchat paired with Bitmoji so I could decorate my own Lizzy McGuire figure to accompany my snaps…who would eventually become 3D in my snapshots, dancing and doing yoga.
NOW…My friends can see my 3D dancing Bitmoji on an interactive map, at my exact location, mimicking what I’m doing–wearing headphones, or driving in my car. The smart technology leaves no room for guessing. My friends know where I am at all times, what I enjoy doing, and can see snapshots along the way of my friends’ shenanigans and my favorite foods.
Side note: Still not over the fact that if I point my camera to food verses at puppies my filters change. Object Recognition will continue to blow my mind. But that’s a whole other Snapchat rant.
SO, do you see a trend? We are becoming more and more tightly interweaved in each others business and as a community, through digital media.
No longer are the days where we have to log on to a computer and wait for it to dial-up, we have one on us all the time. We have the news of each and every person at the tips of our fingers, so of course, there’s a constant sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) if we haven’t checked our accounts lately.
It is our way of staying connected, a connection we have grown up building. Millennials can’t get enough of each other. We are in awe of the human world and use our various accounts for self-expression and to celebrate each other.
In a business sense, this is great for you. If you can understand why we love social media, instead of constantly pointing out our addiction, and then join the conversation and keep up with trends, you will be welcomed into a tight circle.
Don’t miss out on this opportunity.
Thank you for reading my rant. Comment below on your thoughts on social media and if you would like tips on how to update your digital campaign, or schedule a free strategy session!